Eunomia · January 2007


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The idea is that India and the United States are natural allies. But some are skeptical that India is ready to assume the mantle of responsible world power. Closer ties with an ever more authoritarian Russia don’t bode well. ~Michael Goldfarb

I don’t assume India and America are “natural” allies, since I don’t think any such thing exists.  Relative to other states in the region and for the time being, India is the most desirable ally to have to advance American interests in southern and western Asia and to help balance against the rise of China. 

Michael Goldfarb, the Standard’s new blogger, exhibits about as much foreign policy realism and understanding as the Foreign Policy contributor whom he cites in support of his implicitly anti-Indian post.  Closer ties with Russia are hardly surprising, nor should they be the cause of any turning away from India on our part.  Good Russo-Indian relations have been a fact of life ever since the realignment with China in 1972 that led to our leaning towards Pakistan over India (since Barbara Crossette in Foreign Policy insists on talking about the nastiness of 1971, we might remember that CENTO lent some support to Pakistani operations during the war, which did involve many Pakistani atrocities in their attempts to retain control of the Bengali-speaking East).  Contemplating weakening our connection to India because India continues to have good relations with Russia, whether it is authoritarian, democratic or anarchosyndicalist, is the height of moralistic stupidity and precisely what I would expect from the Standard.  The solution for the smart foreign policy thinker is to stop harrassing and alienating the Russians and to form a triad of great powers linking Moscow, New Delhi and Washington.  

Since both of the other powers have good relations with Iran (something that Ms. Crossette foolishly counts as a liability against an Indian alliance), and since it is blindingly obvious that rapprochement with Iran is in our interest, this triad would present a number of possibilities for securing our interests across the continent.  However, so long as we have ridiculous foreign policy thinkers who are more worried about Russian authoritarianism, the caste system and Kashmir than they are about the American interest, we will not succeed in forming such an alliance. 

Most of the examples Barbara Crossette lists as examples of India as bad international actor come from at least twenty years ago–consider how absurd it is to govern current Iran policy by memories of 1979, and you begin to appreciate why talking about India’s role in fomenting the 1971 war is remarkably irrelevant to the question of whether America should cultivate close ties.  By the by, the separation of what was then East Pakistan did have the effect of making future full-out Pakistani attacks on India extremely difficult, and this has contributed to the relative stability that the region has enjoyed for thirty-five years.  The 1971 war was very ugly and brutal, but there have at least been no more such wars–partly because of Indian policy.  That should be counted in New Delhi’s favour, should it not?

We should not enter into any connection with India on the basis of delusions of common purpose or common values.  A very small minority in India shares anything like the “values” most Americans possess, but most are radically alien from us in religion, culture and politics.  That is as you would expect.  Any connection with India must be founded on an understanding and respect for the respective nations’ legitimate and just interests and an appreciation of those points where our nations’ interests coincide.  Where they do not coincide, as they sometimes will not, we should demonstrate a certain degree of patience and toleration without, however, surrendering our appropriate claims.  It very much suits Indian interests, for instance, to have a great deal of outsourcing and offshoring, whereas it does not suit the interests of much of the American people to have their facilities and jobs sent overseas.  That will have to be flagged as an area where there will not be much room for accommodation in the future, which should not preclude cooperation on security, intelligence and other commercial fronts. 

I’m hearing you guys [House GOP] don’t care what people think. That’s what I’m hearing, and that’s what got us the minority, and that’s what’ll keep us there, but I hope you’ll come back and talk with me again. ~Hugh Hewitt

Er, well, actually it was the Iraq war that put Republicans in the minority, as any remedial civics student would have to know by now.  There were aggravating factors with the massive overspending, corruption and general listlessness of GOP leadership, but fundamentally the war caused GOP failure and it will continue to destroy the GOP until Republican leaders stop listening to the Hewitts of the world and listen to their constituents, a majority of whom oppose the war and want out in short order.  The only thing that will keep the GOP in the minority is the sabotage of militaristic purists like Hewitt who seem to have as little understanding of the political realities of the day as they do of the military realities of Iraq.  If they did understand those realities, it would tell them that the surge will not bring victory or anything like it and that this entire tantrum on the part of zealous war supporters is juvenile and ridiculous.

Two senators _ a Republican and a Democrat _ leading separate efforts to put Congress on record against President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq joined forces Wednesday, agreeing on a nonbinding resolution that would oppose the plan and potentially embarrass the White House.

Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., had been sponsoring competing measures opposing Bush’s strategy of sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to the war zone, with Warner’s less harshly worded version attracting more Republican interest. The new resolution would vow to protect funding for troops while keeping Warner’s original language expressing the Senate’s opposition to the buildup.

Levin replaced Warner as chairman of the Armed Services Committee when the Democrats took control of the Senate in January. Their resolution could well gain more support from members of both parties than their separate versions had been attracting. It lacks Levin’s language saying the troop increase is against the national interest, and it drops an earlier provision by Warner suggesting Senate support for some additional troops.

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The House had planned on waiting for the Senate to vote as a way of testing the waters for Republican support of such a resolution. But according to a Democratic aide, the House may begin the process next week with a committee review. That would set the stage for a House floor debate the week of Feb. 12. ~The Washington Post

Seeing that his blunt, clumsy instrument of blackmail and intimidation is failing, Hewitt has begun concocting an amusing, if rather sad, self-justifying myth:

When the bottom falls out of RNC/NRCC/NRSC fundraising, they won’t be able to say they weren’t warned.  the insainty [sic] is that the only way some senators could lose in 2008 is by going defeatist on the war and embracing “benchmarks.”

Yes, if only the GOP would lash itself to the mast of the sinking ship, it would succeed!  And there he goes again obsessing about benchmarks–did the man have a traumatic experience with a workbench as a child?  What is wrong with him? 

We’ll be keeping an eye on the anti-surge GOP Senators to see how well they fare next year.  My guess is that they will perform better than their pro-surge counterparts, but they may still end up going down to defeat because the “surge” will go ahead despite these meaningless, non-binding resolutions and will make the GOP even more radioactive than it already is.  Opposing the surge will only win them credit with voters if they actually do something to stop it–waving their arms in the air and saying, “I think it’s a bad idea, but…whatever!” will not win much support from anyone.  The funny thing is that the anti-surge Republicans may prevent their party’s losses in ‘08 from being a complete blowout and make them just a mildly humiliating setback (that is, maybe just a loss of three seats instead of a possible eight), but only if they actually do something substantive to stop the surge.  If they satisfy themselves with a purely symbolic gesture that also manages to outrage their core partisans, they will get hit coming and going as they will get no credit from either side.     

Much may depend on how much support Hewitt’s crazed GOP suicide pact has actually garnered among serious contributors.  If he and his allies have actually gutted a significant part of the GOP’s online and other fundraising sources over such an incredible non-issue as this resolution business, he can be congratulated for having led the way in handing Congress to the Democrats for the next decade for no good reason.  Maybe the Kossacks will give him some sort of medal as Political Blogger Most Damaging To His Own Side.

The Old Right is back, and in Hagel it has, perhaps, found a formidable and eminently electable candidate. ~Justin Raimondo

Put a lot of emphasis on that perhaps.  First, there are some definitional problems: Hagel is not an antiwar Republican.  How do I know?  Because he never says he is against the war.  There’s a mighty big difference between being antiwar and being opposed to the frustratingly incompetent way a war is being fought.  There’s certainly a huge difference between opposing the war and opposing the ”surge.”  Hagel has distinguished himself, such as he has, as a critic of the war’s management, but you get no sense from any of his public statements that he would dream of proposing a withdrawal from Iraq or bringing an end to the war in the near future.  In defense of his support for Biden’s resolution in the FRC the other day, he specifically argued later that he does not support “redeployment” in the foreseeable future, be it “phased” or “rapid.”  He has endorsed the conventional wisdom that withdrawal would make everything even worse than things are now. 

Furthermore, to the extent that he does advocate extricating the U.S. from Iraq, it is simply a Murthian sort of extrication not terribly different from Lugar’s regional watchman idea.  As Prof. Bacevich noted grimly, there is no fundamental opposition in Washington to the underlying flawed, non-America First U.S. policy that has gotten us to this dreadful pass.  Hagel certainly doesn’t hold to any such foreign policy view and he never has.  He has come to deeply regret his authorisation vote, as well he might–should we give him a medal for realising the obvious four years too late?  Nothing that he says tells me that he understands that the Iraq war came from the profoundly misguided internationalist foreign policy to which he has always subscribed and to which he still generally does subscribe today.  Nothing tells me that he is really all that comparable to anyone who might have once been called Old Right.

Let me a couple words in defense of people who actually think there are other issues besides the war.  First of all, there really are other pressing issues of national concern.  If Hagel were right on the war from an antiwar perspective (which he really isn’t) and wrong on everything else, who would be the monomaniac if you supported him anyway?  If libertarians find the drug war deeply offensive and a candidate’s support for the drug war a dealbreaker, as well they might given its long-running egregious violations of constitutional rights and its inextricable ties to an interventionist and meddlesome foreign policy in Latin America (not to mention its hitherto counterproductive effect on counterinsurgency in Afghanistan), this is not necessarily monomania (a weird charge coming from the editor of Antiwar.com).  It could very well be a consistent extension of their commitment to non-interventionism.  It is interesting how Sen. Hagel can now wrap himself in the Constitution complaining about national security infringements on protected liberties (especially since he originally voted to authorise the PATRIOT Act, as he must have, since only Russ Feingold opposed it in the Senate in 2001), when the drug war infringes on those same liberties using the same bad and transparent justifications.   

Second, the political reality we face is that voters have more concerns than the war and those concerns have to be credibly addressed as well.  One of the burning issues for many disenchanted Republican voters–and a potential opening for a candidate that is antiwar, committed to border security and opposed to amnesty (a tall order these days)–is obviously immigration.  Sen. Hagel is, I’m sorry to say, one of the worst Republican Senators on immigration (Hagel-Martinez, anyone?).  

If he ran in the GOP primaries or as an independent candidate, he would never gain any traction.  That is the reality.  Part of the reason why he would go nowhere is that he does not represent what one could reasonably call an America First position on immigration, and so he automatically alienates all of those people on the right most inclined to view his opposition to the administration favourably.  I genuinely fail to see the Old Right reborn in Chuck Hagel.  Granted, the alternatives may well be worse and it might be a case where we have to bite our tongues and accept a deeply flawed candidate for a greater good, but that’s no reason to kid ourselves that Hagel is either in real agreement with how we look at foreign policy or that he is actually electable.  In truth, he is neither.  If someone wants to make an argument that he represents the best chance antiwar conservatives and libertarians have of being represented, that is something else all together, but it would also a pretty sad statement about the continuing marginalisation of antiwar rightists that the best we can hope for is the candidacy of a pro-amnesty, disenchanted internationalist.   

He has been trying to build his campaign on the idea of protecting human life from womb to death, and across the globe.  That agenda cannot advance by retreating from the field on which the most pivotal of the current battles is being waged.  Perhaps Senator Brownback will also recognize that in the days ahead and back victory in Iraq. ~Hugh Hewitt

No wonder Mitt Romney has mostly been keeping his mouth shut about Iraq.  Even when you are absolutely for what Hewitt would call victory and absolutely supportive of the war, as Brownback is, you cannot satisfy the raving loons who claim to be the voice of popular conservatism in America.  I don’t support Brownback, I don’t much like Brownback, but the ignorant people on both sides of the surge debate who keep thinking that Brownback is somehow less than 100% pro-war are driving me up the wall. 

Okay, I am not on hiatus yet, and Sullivan offers such an easy, fun target: 

It was much more significant in the 2006 elections than the white evangelical vote. In 2006, a full 36 percent of self-described libertarians voted Democrat - easily the biggest share of that vote that the Dems have had in recent times. ~Andrew Sullivan

This has already been talked to death, but here it is one more time: in 2004, these libertarian voters supported the Dems 44-53 in House races and 43-54 in Senate races.  That means that 2004 was the peak of libertarian support for Democratic candidates in Congress.  Both of these results for the Dems are much higher than in 2002 and 2000, but they are also a little higher than in 2006.  So 36% is obviously not the biggest share of the libertarian vote the Dems have had “in recent times,” unless Sullivan defines “in recent times” to be “after the 2004 elections.” 

I also don’t know how he can determine that the libertarian vote is more significant than the white evangelical vote, since there are obviously fewer libertarians, even of the Boaz/Kirby “libertarian-leaning” bloc (which is supposedly 13% of voters), than there are white evangelicals.  According to this and this, white evangelicals consistently made up 23% of the electorate in 2000 and 2004.  Unless roughly half of them sat out the last election–which is a claim I haven’t seen made anywhere–they remain a significantly larger group of voters than the mythical “libertarian swing vote” imagined by Boaz/Kirby.  As to how many “Christianist” voters there are, well, I leave that to Sullivan to invent right along with the Christianists themselves, since they exist only in his head anyway.

It may be that there was a more significant change between 2002 and 2004  and again between 2004 and 2006 in the voting patterns of these ”libertarians” than there was in the voting of white evangelicals, but I don’t have the latter’s numbers handy.  What is certainly not the case is that these libertarians, even as broadly and questionably as the bloc has been defined, somehow formed a larger part of the electorate than white evangelicals.  Is there any conclusion in this post that Sullivan didn’t get wrong?

Ross and Reihan have been selfishly guarding their well-kept secrets and hoarding their witty insights for a month now (on the lame pretexts of “having work to do” and “employment”), so it will soon be time for them to come back and share the wealth.  Sen. Webb would approve.

This will be good news for many, but especially for my readers, since I will be going on a similar hiatus for the duration of February (it is the shortest month of the year, so I’m not depriving you all quite as much as the lads at the Scene have).  Conference papers don’t write themselves, and conference attendance this weekend will be swallowing up four days that might have gone towards something more productive.  (This is where I’m obliged to say that all academic conferences are terribly productive, appropriate uses of our time–chiefly because it gets us here in the Midwest out of seemingly near-Arctic temperatures and forces us to go to sunny California.)  Actually, I will probably get more reading done on this trip than I have managed in several weeks, but none of that will bring my dissertation chapters to completion. 

Eunomia has never been dormant for this long, so it will be interesting to see how many readers will still be here when I “get back.”  Technically, the hiatus doesn’t begin until tomorrow, but there are preparations to be made for the L.A. jaunt and some things that need to get done before I leave.  I may pop back in this evening for a final word.  If not, then hajoghut’yun.

Poor Mitt just can’t buy a break these days.  Now he’s being hit for a veto of funding that would have gone to reimbursing nursing homes so that they could provide kosher meals to elderly Jews on Medicaid:

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told The Politico that the governor vetoed the legislation to cut spending.

“The state was in a fiscal crisis, and it would have led to higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes, which was unaffordable at the time,” he said. “Once we restored fiscal balance, we were in a position to add spending where appropriate.”

The provision is now law, and Fehrnstrom said the veto has not become an issue on the campaign trail.

Yet given the intensity of the battle for Jewish donors, it may become one. “Governor Romney has been pushing his strong and unadulterated belief in a very strong state of Israel,” said a national Jewish leader with close ties to the Republican Party. “Any sort of dents to his armor become problematic to him. There is hesitation in the community to begin with because of his Mormonism. [bold mine-DL] …These sorts of chinks in his armor will help his opponents.”

“It’s definitely going to hurt Romney in the Jewish community,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “You’d think for someone who’s of a minority religion he’d be a little more sensitive to these concerns.”

Somehow I don’t think he’s going to be feeling the minority religion solidarity–note the line about “hesitation” in the community because of his Mormonism.  Now I understand what Christians and straight-up secularists don’t like about Mormons, but what are the specifically Jewish objections to the Mormons in particular?   

The author pretends to argue that hostility to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state is the defining characteristic of the “new” anti-semitism, which is fairly ridiculous on its own terms, but as you read through the examples that’s clearly not what he’s saying. Rather, his view is that some people make what he regards as extreme or over-the-top criticisms of Israel, and that anti-semites would also make such criticisms, so therefore anyone who criticizes Israel too stridently is either practicing anti-semitism or else creating it.

Needless to say, similar standards don’t apply elsewhere. Check out my friend Mark Leon Goldberg’s post about Anne Bayefsky’s ridiculous accusation that “the U.N. provides sustenance for the Iranian genocidal threat, which is directed at Israel now, and America next.” That’s a crazy, absurd, and horribly unfair thing to say. It’s not, however, evidence of racial animosity against Persians, or South Koreans or whomever. By the same token, criticism of Israel — even ill-informed, unfair, unduly harsh criticism of Israel — isn’t anti-semitism, it’s political disagreement.

At any rate, when you think about it, things like this essay or Jonah Goldberg’s little McCarthyite smears aren’t really about convincing people that I’m an anti-semite, or that Tony Judt or Adrienne Rich or Tony Kushner is. The idea, basically, is to scare the goyim who figure that while liberal Jews can take the heat, they probably can’t, and had best just avoid talking about the whole thing. And based on my observations of the blogosphere, it works pretty well as a tactic. ~Matt Yglesias

It does work fairly well as a tactic.  Most people don’t want the grief that would inevitably come with even broaching such sensitive topics.  Second–and this is the really clever part of the intimidation–they have already been thoroughly convinced by previous ritual denunciations of other people as anti-Semites for their policy views that they begin to think that the people being so denounced really are anti-Semitic, which not only intimidates them from commenting but convinces them that the only people who would even be motivated to say anything critical or contrary must be people with bad motives.  They know that they don’t have any bad motives or prejudices like those people, and so go along with the intimidation.  After all, all those denunciations couldn’t all be politically motivated trash, could they?  Actually, they could.  We are watching it unfold before us yet again.  

There are not many so masochistic, indifferent to career suicide or otherwise reckless to say very much critical about anything even touching on Israel, and the few who are impetuous enough to say anything can usually be pretty easily pigeonholed or ostracised and marginalised.  It remains a despicable and base tactic, but those are often the most “effective” kind when the goal is to destroy your opponent’s good name and annihilate his credibility. 

Of course, the definition of what constitutes excessively “strident” criticism of Israel will somehow wind up being in the control of people who tend to think almost every criticism of Israel is excessively strident.  That would be the point of the whole exercise, which is control of the debate and the definition of its terms and limits.  That is what happens in any discourse when a society tolerates the existence of self-appointed gatekeepers who hold all the keys and make all the rules about what can be said and how.   

You’d have to be pretty thick not to realize that del Toro intends the fairyland narrative — heavy with arbitrary commands, underground abattoirs, and intimations of blood sacrifice — as a commentary on the politics at work in the real-world storyline, and this realization has sent many critics into raptures over the film’s supposed political sophistication. Hence, for instance, Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern’s announcement that Pan’s Labyrinth “deepens our emotional understanding of fascism, and of rigid ideology’s dire consequences.”

This is, of course, precisely what the movie doesn’t do. López makes what he can of the character of Vidal, turning a cardboard villain into a memorable monster, but the film’s politics are about as deep as a puddle of blood. The fascists are beasts who torture, maim, and kill without compunction, before sitting down to fine dinners with local grandees and corrupt clerics; the Communists in the woods, on the other hand, are a heroic lot, sturdy and kindhearted and ethically pure, like figures out of, well, Communist propaganda. The only thing such caricatures deepen is our understanding of predictable left-wing bias in Western cinema. ~Ross Douthat (via Peter Suderman)

I haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth, so I reserve judgement on the quality of this film.  It almost could not be as good as everyone claims it is, because that would mean that it is as memorable and well-done as Casablanca but not nearly so clumsy with its blatant political moralising.  Obviously, if Ross’ review is right (and for the content of his review I am only working from the two paragraphs Peter cited), it is even clumsier and therefore probably much, much worse.  

Casablanca is a great classic in its way, but it is also one of the pioneers in heavy-handed, clumsy anti-fascist propaganda (this undoubtedly improves its reputation for most people, but it is a serious flaw in the film).  Victor Laszlo was also sturdy, kindhearted and ethically pure (and he gets the girl!), the Germans were also obviously cruel and malevolent, and Rick was that classic type of the embittered American idealist (whose motto apparently is, “I will never learn from experience”).  The inevitable conclusion is more predictable than the final shaadi scene in a Bollywood romance.   The shallowness of Casablanca’s politics has never stopped people from considering it one of the greatest movies ever made, though it almost certainly should have.         

Speaking of the merry communist bands in the forest and the noble Laszlo, I much prefer my commie movie heroes to actually be decent patriotic Russians who are only later cynically transformed into Party symbols by the conniving little commissars who secretly hate the heroes (the portrayal of Zaitsev in Enemy at the Gates is a lot more believable and sympathetic than Laszlo’s cookie-cutter “freedom”-fighting commie).  Therefore, when I heard that Pan’s Labyrinth was something like a mythical allegory on the closing days of the Spanish Civil War, my heart sank.  I had initially been intrigued by what I had heard of the story, and immediately after learning about the political angle I was sure I already knew the script.  Ross’ description confirmed my suspicions: noble Republican heroes confront over-the-top bad guy fascists.  How they do so and what we see along the way become almost secondary to this tiresome moral lesson.  Maybe Pan’s Labyrinth doesn’t hector us as much as it sounds like it does, but it would be a unique anti-fascist movie if it didn’t.  When I first heard of the movie, I thought, “That might be very interesting.”  Then I heard the bit about the Spanish Civil War and I thought, “How dreary.”

This is not because I am uninterested in the Spanish Civil War (quite the opposite, in fact), but because I am entirely uninterested in morality plays in which it is taken as a given that the “fascists”–that is, the Nationalists–represent the embodiment of corruption and darkness, while the Republicans represent everything good and humane.  (When, I ask you, will someone make an updated version of the story of El Cid featuring the character of a dashing Carlist general?  When hell freezes over, comes the answer.)  It’s one of the reasons I always have such a hard time taking Hemingway seriously, because writers are supposed to be great observers of the world around them and writers who side with what I consider clearly atrocious causes have forfeited some of their authority as witnesses about the world.  That’s also one of the reasons I implicitly trust Roy Campbell’s aesthetic judgement.  I suppose I am in a distinct minority here. 

However, while I’m sure Ross is entirely right in his assessment of the depth of the movie’s politics and its lack of political sophistication, I submit that this is exactly the kind of “emotional understanding of fascism” that everyone wants and it is the sort of understanding that everyone will declare brilliant and insightful because it achieves something so much more important to a modern audience (especially a modern American audience) than real understanding of a phenomenon: it reenacts and condemns the audience’s foremost, universally-hated ideology in a sort of spectacle of moral judgement.  The only “emotional understanding of fascism” most of these people want is a very simple one that involves learning how to hate fascists.  In fact, there has never been any other kind of understanding in any form of Western art since 1945 for obvious reasons.  If that involves reimagining the Nationalists of Spain as stereotypical fascists, so be it. 

Everyone can unreservedly despise the “fascists” portrayed in the spectacle, while patting themselves on the back for being free of the bonds of such a ”rigid ideology.”  There is no need to delve any deeper than puddle-level into the politics of the subject.  We know from the beginning how we will react to the fascists; our conditioning has done half the director’s work for him.  All he needs do is give us a little push and we are happily sprinting towards whatever he wishes us to see, as if we were in a race with our fellow viewers to see who will reach the expected feeling of revulsion and contempt first.  “Oh, look at me, I hate fascism the most–do I get a cookie?” the winner will cry.  “Simplistic narratives and characters,” as Peter describes them, are the only kind that can exist in a movie about fascism or any regime deemed fascist by the cognoscenti.  The closest anyone has ever come to making a more complicated movie about a famous fascist person, to my knowledge, was Max (Tea with Mussolini definitely does not count), but that was set in Hitler’s youth and even that, in the end, had to succumb to a caricature every bit as cartoonish as any you will likely see.  The ending of Max is the payoff to the audience that has endured treating Hitler like a real human being for well over an hour–they want to see him reduced to a gibbering madman, no more, no less, and the director obliges.   There may come a time when this is not the case, but until someone produces, say, a complex and intelligent bio-pic about Marshal Petain or some Clint Eastwood of the next generation directs Letters from Salo we will continue to be treated to the thin, predictable treatment that assumes everything and asks nothing.  That is the treatment everyone wants, because anti-fascism is essentially the last universally-accepted consensus view. 

If you took away the audience’s mindless anti-fascism, they would become very agitated and unhappy, because it would be to take away the one thing about which virtually everyone can agree.  It is to some degree one of the few truly universal bonds uniting people from all over the world, and it provides a handy moral and political compass for most of the world.  To challenge that consensus would be to invite doom on yourself.  To start introducing anything other than simplistic narratives and characters into storytelling about anything related to fascism or those regimes conventionally and often ignorantly deemed fascist would be to risk the classical charge of trying to reject the gods of the city.  Not only would the director who dared to try be crushed by negative press and his motives impugned, but very few people would go to see it.  It would be considered part of the decadent avant-garde and relegated to the realm of strange experimental films.  It is much easier, then, to take the normal route, paint in bright primary colours with no subtlety whatever and receive the accolades of a grateful public, whose comforting crutch of reconfirmed ideological superiority continues to support them and keep them from having to think about the rigidities of their own ideological commitments and the crimes of their own regimes.  

The folks at the Prospect must be slipping.  Compare Amy Sullivan’s meaty, well-researched Washington Monthly article on Romney’s evangelical problem with Sarah Posner’s “What Evangelical Problem?” to see a significant difference in substance.  Nonetheless, Posner’s article is interesting, and it highlights some of our favourite Romneyites at Evangelicals for Mitt.  The article also does do us all a favour and traces the connections between two of the three that helps explain why they are working together to boost Romney’s candidacy.  However, the article starts out hinting that some of the “biggest power brokers of the Christian right are lovin’ Mitt.”  By some, she means exactly three.  That hardly does away with Romney’s larger problems with evangelicals. 

An interesting tidbit about one of the “biggest power brokers,” Jay Sekulow, that had either escaped my notice the first time around or drifted from memory was that Sekulow was a big booster of Harriet Miers’ nomination.  That doesn’t surprise me, since I was pretty sure at the time many evangelicals were thrilled to have “one of theirs” nominated to the Court in spite of her impressive lack of any qualifications for the position.  In fact, besides the gross cronyism and Mr. Bush’s love of incompetent appointees that were at the heart of the nomination, I assumed Bush had selected Miers because she was an evangelical and that this was his ham-fisted attempt to reward evangelicals for their political support.  Evangelicals certainly were enthusiastic about her, and resented the way she was drop-kicked when it became clear that all serious people were convinced the nomination was a horrifying disaster about to unfold. 

That brings us to Mr. Sekulow’s support for Mitt Romney.  If Mr. Sekulow’s judgement in presidential candidates is as poor as it was in backing a nonentity for the Supreme Court (a nonentity who, let us remember, also had an embarrassing record saying things about abortion that were not all together pro-life), we can assume that Gov. Romney is even less qualified that he might otherwise first appear to be.  Considering that Sam Brownback was instrumental in quashing the Miers nomination, it is especially fitting that he should be in a position to undo another one of the people Mr. Sekulow has chosen to support.  Consider also that, in the extremely unlikely event of a Romney presidency, Sekulow could have significant influence on the kinds of justices a President Romney would select, which means that we have good reason to expect more absurd nominees like Harriet Miers should Romney ever reach the White House.  That and that alone ought to be reason enough to make sure that we make this virtually impossible outcome totally impossible.

And the “larger” question I’ve been pondering of late is this: Why have some elements of the right attacked Governor Romney so viciously? Especially since many of these same people (like the guiding force behind MassResistance) not only don’t support an alternative candidate, they even voted for the Governor in past campaigns when he advanced more liberal views. Why the malice?

These attacks are interesting considering I spend all day every day working for a pro-life and pro-family legal organization and actually wear the uniform of my country as a member of the U.S. Army Reserves. I would take the attacks personally (and sometimes, I admit, it is hard not to), but I also realize an essential truth. This malice is not about me — and it’s not even about Governor Romney.

Yes, that’s right. The malice really has little or nothing to do with Governor Romney. Instead — and this is vitally important to understand — Governor Romney merely represents the vehicle (a highly public vehicle) for grinding axes within the conservative movement itself. ~David French, Evangelicals for Mitt

I can’t speak for anyone else (and I dispute the idea that anyone is being particularly malicious or vicious towards Gov. Romney), but it seems to me that the criticism really is all about Gov. Romney and about little else.  I don’t target him as a representative of a larger group in the conservative movement because he doesn’t represent any larger group–the group he would like to represent is precisely the group whose views he does not, in fact, possess (or has only possessed them for a very short time while he has been making his run).  My criticism of him is not really directed at someone else–it is really all aimed at Candidate Romney. 

He is being vetted as the social conservative he claims to be.  His claims are being challenged based on substantial evidence that gives conservatives pause and makes them wonder if the new Mitt Romney on display is anything other than a fraud being perpetrated on them.  Given the relative novelty of his position as a pro-lifer, in particular, it is shocking that any social conservatives of any kind are still considering him as a serious contender at all to serve as their standard-bearer.  This is, however, the cycle in which Giuliani is also being taken seriously as a contender for the nomination, so clearly standards are slipping all over the place.

But just ask yourself whether anyone who had recently joined a movement or a group would be encouraged to become one of the most prominent members of that group after having been a serious opponent of everything your group represents.  Of course, this wouldn’t happen, and we all know this.  It is virtually unheard of that the novice is allowed to become the abbot after a year or two, and it is almost never the case that the heretic gets to become bishop after a couple years of penance.  Likewise in any secular organisation: the newest club member who has just signed up to pad his resume does not usually get elected president; the freshman House member does not get to be Speaker in the space of a couple years; the branch manager of a bank does not get promoted to be CEO and Chairman of the corporation.  Even if there were no concerns about Romney’s opportunistic “discovery” of the sanctity of life–and there are many concerns–he is playing the role of the greenhorn upstart who wants to run the whole ranch.  Nobody likes that kind of guy (well, unless his name is Obama, in which case all kinds of people pretend to like him), and I mean nobody. 

The criticism against Romney has everything to do with Gov. Romney’s choices and record and the very convenient timing of his profound conversion to supporting the cause of life.  The first President Bush received similarly justified criticism when he suddenly discovered his abiding concern about the sanctity of life–this was around the same time he discovered how profound his problems would be in trying to get re-elected.  If Romney and his supporters want less scrutiny and less harsh criticism, he shouldn’t have egregiously flip-flopped in such a blatantly cynical way or he shouldn’t have decided to run for President in ‘08.  In another four or eight years, concern about his “conversion” would have become less acute as he built up more of a record of prolonged commitment to the cause that was not so obviously tied to his ambitions for higher office (assuming, of course, that he changed his mind without having an election on the horizon).  That he chose to become pro-life and run for President at almost the exact same time cries out, “I am pandering for votes in the Republican primaries!”  If there has been any viciousness directed against Gov. Romney, it has only been the disdain smart voters and observers show for particularly clumsy politicians who try to dupe them with claims about their beliefs that do not pass the sniff test.  We don’t like frauds, and we’re not going to put up with their attempts to scam us.   

 

I’m employed by a large pro-life organization and I can tell you that pro-lifers have been very receptive to Romney’s conversion story. Your advice that he “would probably be better off not talking about it all” is off the mark. If he doesn’t address why he’s pro-life after years of being mildly pro-choice, voters won’t accept that he’s sincere. But if he can openly share his conversion story, pro-lifers will gladly accept him into our ranks. ~Nathan Burd (of Evangelicals for Mitt) to Rich Lowry

Except that Lowry’s remarks advising Romney to keep mum about the subject were in the context of saying that he didn’t find the conversion story very credible or convincing at all.  Lowry said:

His account of how he came to change his view on abortion—through the issue of stem-cell research—isn’t very compelling and he would probably be better off not talking about it at all. Fairly or not, people aren’t going to believe it.

Indeed, becoming ardently pro-life by way of an acquaintance with stem-cell research is about as likely as deciding to become an Athonite monk because of exposure to the idea of intelligent design.  It isn’t implausible that thinking and reflecting on the matter over some time might eventually lead you on a path that ends at being ardently pro-life, but to make the leap Romney claims to have made in the space of a year or so is very hard to take.  Lowry is not alone in finding this story to be pretty far-fetched.  As Byron York wrote late last year:

Romney’s description of his conversion strikes some activists on both sides of the abortion issue as unusual. “People do change their minds,” says the pro-choice Kogut. “I’ve seen it. But this is different. It seems completely timed with his presidential ambitions.” Oran Smith, pro-life, questions Romney’s explanation in a more subtle way. In talks with conservative Christians, Smith points out, Romney has often addressed the issue of his Mormon faith by saying something to the effect of, “Our faiths are different, but they bring us to the same positions on the issues.” But by all accounts, Romney was a faithful Mormon when he was solidly pro-choice, and he is a faithful Mormon today when he is solidly pro-life. How, precisely, did his faith bring him to different positions, then and now? “Christians generally like for someone to have a conversion experience and a mea culpa moment,” says Smith. “But he doesn’t have that to turn to. He can’t say, ‘My faith changed, and therefore my views changed.’ That’s the normal thing with Republicans who move to the right on some issues — they claim to have had some spiritual transformation.”

Another problem Romney might have is the sheer recent-ness of his change of views, which occurred at virtually the same moment Romney was making early moves in South Carolina. A change itself is not that unusual, says David Woodard, but the timing is. “There are a lot of conversion stories,” Woodard says, “people who say, ‘I was pro-choice until my daughter got pregnant,’ or ‘I was pro-choice until a friend got pregnant,’ and then they had a lot of misgivings. That worked in the ‘80s, or the early ‘90s, but in 2004, after this issue has been aired for many years? It’s going to be harder.” 

In fact, what Romney’s “conversion” story tells us is that if he is telling the truth about the reasons for becoming pro-life he is basically not telling the truth about the influence of his faith on his “values” or he is simply admitting that his faith is not what informed his pro-life views and therefore his Mormonism becomes an even more significant problem for religious conservatives than it already was because he has effectively acknowledged his faith was not what brought him to the “same place” on these issues and because he has admitted that his faith was not what inspired the change (except in perhaps a very roundabout way).   

Furthermore, this “mildly pro-choice” nonsense that Mr. Burd has offered us has to be challenged.  Romney wasn’t just “mildly pro-choice” prior to his supposed conversion.  As Matt Yglesias has pointed out after citing this week’s Weekly Standard article on Romney’s pro-choice positions in 2002:

As you can see in the Medicaid answer, he wasn’t even a moderate on the issue — Romney was taking a strong, strong pro-choice stance.

This was a man who was adamantly “pro-choice” down the line and who has now become just as adamantly pro-life on just about everything.  Such a radical transformation did not happen, if it happened, because one Dr. Melton came in and talked to him about the fertilisation of ova and the extraction of stem cells.  It is therefore far more reasonable to conclude that the transformation never took place. 

These moves may get him closer to the Republican nomination, but whether they reflect deep principles or merely a venture capitalist’s professional sense of what’s required to achieve his goal is already the defining question of the Romney campaign. ~Peter Canellos

Query: If Romney is the great venture capitalist who has a keen grasp of an operation’s weaknesses and the things that need to be done to ensure success, how is it that he can be so oblivious to the huge liability to his campaign that his religion represents?  Is that this particular venture capitalist’s blind spot?

The Congressional Republicans’ demand for “benchmarks” is becoming the GOP’s equivalent of Al Gore’s demand years ago for ”lockboxes,” –an empty term originally intended to convey seriousness of purpose while disguising empty policy prescriptions, but which, by the sheer implausibility of the pose, became a term attracting  deserved disdain.

Republican resolutions calling for “benchmarks” are being understood by people serious about victory in the war as a no confidence lite.  To align with a call for “benchmarks” is to leave the victory caucus.  The Republican leadership should figure this out in a hurry and drop the idea as the genuinely bad idea it was and remains. ~Hugh Hewitt

Hewitt’s Townhall blog colleague Matt Lewis states the obvious that benchmark resolutions are not the same as resolutions against the surge.  Perhaps he, too, will be booted out of the “victory caucus.”  Lewis also has a delicious bit where he points out that Hewitt’s hero, Mitt Romney, also supports benchmarks.  I’m sure the pledge drive to refuse Romney all support in his bid for the White House will begin any day now.  Unless, of course, Hewitt is just an administration lackey using his public influence to badger the Senate into submission to the executive, but that couldn’t be the case, could it?

In many ways, I find Romney an appealing, moderate Republican: competent, reformist, articulate. And then he tried to run as Hewitt-theocon. ~Andrew Sullivan

Which is the worse thing you can say about Romney?  That Andrew Sullivan would have supported him, or that Hugh Hewitt does support him?  This is a very difficult question.  It will probably have to be settled by coin-toss, so dreadful are the alternatives.

Brownback has some cross-over appeal. Anti-war, big government Christianism has a real constituency. ~Andrew Sullivan

Brownback may or may not have crossover appeal.  He is a U.S. Senator, after all, which does require, even in deepest Kansas of paranoid liberal myth-making, some support from people beyond his core partisan supporters.  But whatever crossover appeal he does have, be it on his cockamie “compassionate conservative” message, his “save Darfur” do-gooding or his support for amnesty, has nothing to do with his views on the war.  His general views on the war, as I have been saying again and again, place him squarely in the mainstream of Republican opinion.  He continues to support the war just as fiercely as ever–it is only the profound confusion of surge proponents and opponents that has made Brownback’s position on this one plan make him appear to be some sort of antiwar Republican.  Nothing could be more wrong.  Here, again, is his statement on Iraq from his presidential campaign announcement:

We are a nation at war. I just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops–the finest, most courageous people our nation has to offer–are fighting for the cause of liberty in places that have never known her. It is a long fight. We will win. We cannot lose our will to win! We must win to redeem our troops’ sacrifice. Let us resolve to have a bipartisan strategy for the war. We need unity here to win over there. This is not the time for partisanship on any side. Lives–and our future–are at stake. 

In any case, the Sullivan remark quoted above would be from the same clever political analyst who has determined that the “big-government Christianists” (who, in reality, do not exist) and the “fundamentalist” mentality they possess were the chief moving forces behind the Iraq war.  The point is not that his prior claim is correct (it is ludicrous), but that he cannot really expect us to view the “Christianists” as the force of utter malevolence he has made them out to be if they are also now forming a real constituency against the war. 

The reality is somewhat different from both fantasies that Sullivan has come up with: most Christian conservatives, who are not “big-government,” supported the war out of their sense of patriotism and (surely misguided) deference to the President, and they continue to support it for these same reasons.  There are in any case very few “antiwar evangelicals,” as Sullivan has called them, and Sam Brownback is neither antiwar nor is he any longer an evangelical.  Once again, opposition to the surge is not opposition to the war, and being anti-surge is not being antiwar.  Everyone who can read a newspaper, except apparently Hugh Hewitt and Andrew Sullivan, understands this.

We dirty Christians and Jews only have holidays.  Shiites have holy days, so they must be on a higher moral plane, I guess.  ~NRO Reader

Now I have no love for the Times, whose story about the Ashura bombings prompted this bit of hysteria, but even I find this sort of reading-pro-Muslim-bias-between-the-lines to be absurd and risible.  Holiday means holy day.  Holiday the English contraction of the two words into one.  If it often is used with a different sense in the English-speaking world today, that is the result of increased secularisation of our holy days themselves, which can only be rather indirectly laid at the door of The New York Times.  More relevant to the story at hand is that it reports on the deaths of dozens in yet another example of the appalling security situation in Iraq.  If I were the average NRO reader, who probably still thinks the media are keeping the “good news” from the American public in a treasonous plot to undermine the war effort, I would also want to do everything possible to talk about anything else in this story other than the event it was reporting.   

As GOPers debate ideological comfort, Dems argue over experience. But much like Romney, Obama’s survival will depend more on how he performs, than the attacks he draws from opponents. ~Hotline

This is true.  Not having much of a record worth mentioning on the social issues he now claims to champion, Romney has to be able to win over the doubters, for there will be many doubters.  Right now, people who are not immediately inclined to accept his “conversion” tale aren’t accepting him. 

Given the performance Gov. Romney gave at the NRI Summit the other day, where even his boosters have acknowledged he was on the defensive when speaking about his conservatism (perhaps when you know your position as a conservative isn’t at all tenable, it can make you feel very nervous in a room full of people who expect you to be conservative), he isn’t performing terribly well.  When his explanation of how he became pro-life rings hollow with people, as it often does, he says, “But look at what I’ve done!”  But then when people look at what he’s done and conclude that it isn’t very much at all (or that he was largely unsuccessful in winning the fights that he got into), he shouts, like an adolescent who is being contradicted, “I am so pro-life!”  Usually, when you have to keep insisting on it, and almost appear to be convincing yourself in the process, it won’t obvious to anyone else that it is true and it means that you really need to work on your delivery. 

As Brownback keeps hammering him on this point, watch as Romney’s star fades.  Unfortunately, that can only mean the ascension of Amnesty Sam to a position of prominence.  The Party of Immigration, Imperialism and Insolvency is not doing anything to convince me that it will be changing its ways.

We need to recast the geo-strategic reference points of our Iraq policy. Some commentators have compared the Bush plan to a “Hail Mary” pass in football — a desperate heave deep down the field by a losing team at the end of the game. Actually, a far better analogy for the Bush plan is a draw play on third down with 20 yards to go in the first quarter. The play does have a chance of working if everything goes perfectly, but it is more likely to gain a few yards and set up a punt on the next down, after which the game can be continued under more favorable circumstances. ~Sen. Richard Lugar

Apparently, we need to recast our geostrategic reference points into a series of football reference points.  That should make them more amenable to the limited understanding of Mr. Bush, who was, after all, a “yell leader” in his younger days.  If we’re playing a “field position” game, as Sen. Lugar absurdly describes it, that means we had better have an awfully good “punt kicker.”  In the real world that means we would have to be something like a back-up plan when the surge (sorry, “draw play”) fails.  (For those paying attention, we don’t have any such back-up plan.) 

It will probably fail because the Iraqi government (sorry, I mean the “blockers”) is actually working with the death squads (er, “defensive line”) and our “quarterback” will get “tackled behind the line” for a “loss of five.”  Query: do we really want politicians who are routinely exposed to the Redskins to be using football analogies in connection with wars?   

See Michael Crowley’s post on the same.

To answer Spencer “Democrat Party” is a slur just because it’s wrong. ~Matt Yglesias

This is about as “inside baseball” as blogging can get, and will therefore probably be of interest to all of twelve people, but let me make a few remarks.  As you will have noticed, Republicans nowadays like to refer to the Democratic Party as “the Democrat Party.”  Mr. Bush did this the other day in the SOTU, and Republicans have been doing it for years before that.  They do this, yes, to be insulting by refusing to call the party by the name its members use, but they also want to insult Democrats by effectively denying the Democratic Party’s claim to being a party of the people.  That is, they want to deny its claim to being democratic (a dubious honour that they, the Republicans, have decided to start claiming for themselves), so they refuse to call it the Democratic Party. 

This is bound up with the many contortions that the party of corporations and the moneyed interest has gone through to make itself into the vehicle of populist resentment (without, mind you, actually doing anything to address populist resentments or desires) against “elites.”  That the Democratic Party of the last seventy-odd years has been increasingly a party run by a political and cultural elite for the interests of that elite to the detriment of many Americans hardly helps to rebut these charges of not being a party of “the people,” but leave that aside for now.  If you were to press some Republicans on this usage, “Democrat Party,” they would probably assure you in great earnestness that this has either always been the name of the other party (which is wrong) or that it is now the appropriate name for the party of elitism.  One basic problem with the new name for the opposing party favoured by Republicans is that it is simply illiterate: democrat is a substantive, democratic is an adjective, and they should be used in the proper way by those who would like to be considered functionally literate English-speakers.  Since Mr. Bush is the foremost representative of the GOP these days, I suppose it is understandable that they would begin to imitate his special facility with the language and would start using the wrong words for the wrong things. 

The way forward requires abandoning that conviction in favor of a fundamentally different course. A sound Middle East strategy will restore American freedom of action by ending our dependence on Persian Gulf oil. It will husband our power by using American soldiers to defend America rather than searching abroad for dragons to destroy. A sound strategy will tend first to the cultivation of our own garden.

A real course change will require a different compass, different navigational charts, and perhaps above all different helmsmen, admitting into the debate those who earn their livelihoods far from the imperial city on the Potomac. A foreign policy worthy of the name will reflect the concerns and aspirations of ordinary Americans. It’s that last prospect that Frederick Kagan and James Baker most fear. ~Andrew Bacevich

What can we say of this proposal? Simply this: to imagine that 170,000 troops will accomplish what 140,000 troops failed to do in nearly four years or that marching a handful of additional combat brigades into the maw of Baghdad will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat qualifies as pure fantasy. Kagan’s “surge” is the first cousin to Kenneth Adelman’s more famous “cakewalk.” It is ideology dressed up as strategy. Marketed as the product of careful analysis, the surge should be seen for what it is: a naked gamble. Tacitly acknowledging the point, some proponents even refer to it as the “double down” option.

That in places like AEI and the editorial offices of The Weekly Standard Kagan himself has emerged as the man of the hour testifies to the depth of neoconservative desperation. Kagan’s insistence that his surge will do the trick postpones the neoconservative day of reckoning. Believe Kagan and you can avoid for at least a bit longer having to confront Iraq’s incontrovertible lessons: that preventive war doesn’t work, that American power has limits, that the world is not infinitely malleable, and that grasping for “benign global hegemony” is a self-defeating proposition.

Indeed, the very niggardliness of Kagan’s plan testifies to the core problem to which neoconservatives refuse to own up. Between their professed aspirations and the means at hand to pursue those aspirations there yawns a massive gap. ~Andrew Bacevich

The true purpose of bipartisanship is to protect the interests of the Washington Party, the conglomeration of politicians, hustlers, and bureaucrats who benefit from the concentration of wealth and power in the federal city. A “bipartisan” solution to any problem is one that produces marginal change while preserving or restoring the underlying status quo. ~Andrew Bacevich

Dan McCarthy has a smart and interesting article in the new TAC, now online:

More plausible than either liberaltarianism or a revival of 1990s-style paleo-libertarianism, however, is a gradual reconfiguration of conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism alike under the pressures of the War on Terror. Lindsey may have been more right than he realized when he wrote, “the real problem with our politics today is that the prevailing ideological categories are intellectually exhausted”; it may already be anachronistic to talk about libertarians aligning with the Left or the Right, when different factions of Left and Right are even beginning to align with one another, not in some grand theoretical project but in support of or opposition to the extreme measures that have so far characterized the War on Terror.

The highly unusual mixture of support for Sen. Jim Webb found among antiwar conservatives, conventional liberals, economic populists, and libertarians suggests what may be in the offing. If Left and Right really are outmoded terms, libertarians—and others who are beginning to peel away from the conservative establishment—should not wonder which side to choose. They should simply stay true to their philosophy and oppose government aggrandizement as effectively as they can—which, contra Lindsey, does not mean embracing energy taxes or forgetting that war is the health of the state.

Chronicles readers will be interested to see the parts of the article related to the magazine and the attempts at a paleocon/paleolibertarian alliance. 

So why, after six years of glorifying George Bush and devoting their full-fledged loyalty to him and the GOP-controlled Congress are conservatives like Lowry and Gingrich suddenly insisting that Bush is an anti-conservative and the GOP-led Congress the opposite of conservative virtue? The answer is as obvious as it is revealing. They are desperately trying to disclaim responsibility for the disasters that they wrought in the name of “conservatism,” by repudiating the political figures whom they named as the standard-bearers of their movement but whom America has now so decisively rejected.

George Bush has not changed in the slightest. He is exactly the same as he was when he was converted into the hero and icon of the “conservative movement.” The only thing that has changed is that Bush is no longer the wildly popular President which conservatives sought to embrace, but instead is a deeply disliked figured, increasingly detested by Americans, from whom conservatives now wish to shield themselves. And in this regard, these self-proclaimed great devotees of Conservative Political Principles have revealed themselves to have none.

When he was popular, George Bush was the Embodiment of Conservatism. Now that he is rejected on a historic scale, he is the Betrayer of Conservatism. That is because “Conservatism” — while definable on a theoretical plane — has come to have no practical meaning in this country other than a quest for ever-expanding government power for its own sake. When George Bush enabled those ends, he was The Great Conservative. Now that he impedes them, he is the Judas of the Conservative Movement. It is just that simple and transparent. ~Gleen Greenwald

As far as the “movement” and especially the people gathered at the NRI Summit are concerned, Greenwald is pretty much entirely right.  The new “don’t blame conservatives, blame those treacherous Republicans” narrative is a sad and sorry dodge of responsibility that everyone who worked hand in glove with the GOP for at least the last six years is using to escape the collapsing wreckage of the Bush Era.  In the past, there have been occasions when it was possible to make this sort of argument work.  It was possible for conservatives to have expected something more after 1994 and then become disillusioned with what followed.  It was perfectly legitimate to view Bush the Elder as someone who had betrayed the people who had voted for him by breaking his promises on taxes, etc.  But with this Mr. Bush there was almost never a time, even when he was a candidate, when conservatives should ever have allowed that Mr. Bush was conservative, because he so clearly was not if the word meant anything at all.  Support for him should always have been extremely conditional, rather than wildly enthusiastic as it was from very early on.  This was true even pre-9/11, as I recall a cartoon in The Washington Times showing Mr. Bush returning from his first foreign visit to Europe as if it were a new V-E Day and he was some sort of conquering hero.  Of course, absolutely nothing had been achieved on his first European trip; he had, I think, said something rather blunt about Kyoto, which annoyed the Europeans, but the popular attitude towards the man was completely out of all proportion.  So it would be for the next many years.  That the “movement” was willing to embrace him as a conservative of some stripe, or at least was willing to tie themselves so closely to him and his fortunes as they did signaled their submission to his goals and policies.  

That doesn’t mean that the gross distortions and contortions of conservatism that these people have engaged in during their period of near-complete slavishness towards Mr. Bush and the GOP are anything like proper conservatism, but it surely does mean that many of these people abandoned that conservatism right along with Mr. Bush every time they cheered on his aggressive war or looked the other way as he enlarged the size of government or pretended not to notice while he shredded constitutional protections and checks on the executive.  Even when some did occasionally, meekly raise a voice of protest about Medicare or immigration or some other domestic policy, they would effectively render that protest meaningless by affirming that they would continue to support Mr. Bush because of his great war leadership.  There is a myth developing out here that 2006 saw massive conservative defections, which I would like to believe, but the GOP turnout machine brought essentially the same core people to the polls that they did in 2004–the key difference last year was the overwhelming loss of independent voters to the Democrats.  After everything that happened between 2004 and the midterms, core conservative Republican voters continued to go along with Mr. Bush.   

These people did effectively “hollow out” conservatism and fill it with whatever horrendous ideas the administration put forward.  Arguably, this hollowing out has been going on for a good deal longer than the last six years, but it became acute and fatal in recent years.  Some of us on the right have been saying as much for quite a while, and certainly long before it was popular or advantageous to say so, and I appreciate that Greenwald acknowledges some of these people later in his post. 

The first hollowing out was the fraud of “compassionate conservatism.”  The next was the effective indifference of most of these “movement” people to Mr. Bush’s “big-government conservatism,” which they tolerated or even endorsed (because Medicare Part D uses private companies for providing prescription drugs, which means it can’t be a bad idea!).  They tolerated all of this because of the more abiding sell-out to activist, interventionist foreign policy that became the priority of most “conservative” leaders.  These people cheered every unconstitutional executive usurpation, every trampling of constitutional rights and every abdication of congressional responsibilities, and counted it as villainy if anyone dared suggest that the President had no right to do any of these things.  From early 2002 until the midterms, all things would be endured for the sake of Mr. Bush’s abominable foreign policy, the chief example of which has been the Iraq war.  Even now these supposed leaders of conservatives will go down with Mr. Bush’s War sooner than repudiate that abomination.  Even now the apparatus of mainstream conservatism works to chastise dissenting Republican members of the Senate for daring to question the glorious surge.  The surge’s possible merits and flaws are irrelevant to these people–what matters is, as Greenwald himself has noted before, that Mr. Bush and Gen. Petraeus have said they are for it, so the followers take it as something close to revealed truth that it must be the path to victory.  (After all, when has Mr. Bush ever been for a plan that didn’t work?)  These movement leaders may as well go down with him, since they have no credibility left, except among themselves, and are now receiving the payment of their sale of principle for the brief moment of basking in the reflected glory of power. 

All that being said, Greenwald’s approval of the main thesis of Sullivan’s book is misplaced and I think he is deeply mistaken to take Sullivan’s explanation of the woes of conservatism seriously.  If I have some more time this week before I go to L.A., perhaps I will try to get into how Greenwald has missed the mark on Sullivan’s book.

Dean Barnett on Hugh Hewitt’s educational background:

You don’t get those degrees from Michigan Law School at the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box.

That’s right.  I believe you receive them in the mail after sending in any three proofs of purchase of Fruit Loops (which, in Hewitt’s case, is entirely appropriate).

What has the usual suspects in such a fit this time?  After five days of their glorious pledge drive aimed at the Senate…the House Republican leadership has decided to propose a benchmark resolution on Iraq!  Ha!  Enjoy that one, Hewitt.

More Barnett:

The other scenario, and frankly I find this one both more likely and more chilling, is that Boehner has never even considered, not for one second, the effect his resolution will have on the enemy. Hugh’s question caught him off guard and without an answer because to him, it seemed like a non-sequitur. 

Perhaps it is a non-sequitur (that would be one of those other tough Latin phrases Barnett learned while he was in law school–maybe he even knows how to translate this one properly!), because perhaps setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet is a necessary and important condition for determining the degree of success the surge has so that the government will have more information about how to make any changes that might be needed to improve the chances of the surge’s success.  Perhaps the world does not revolve around Hugh Hewitt and Dean Barnett, and perhaps they do not have the final word on all military matters (thank God for that).  I don’t think the surge will succeed, and I think setting benchmarks for people in league with death squads is a waste of time, but I am not John Boehner.  John Boehner almost certainly thinks the surge will work (and he would support it even if he didn’t), and can probably be taken at his word that he is trying to help give the White House some cover on what is fast becoming a losing issue for Mr. Bush.  He probably hasn’t considered what effect a benchmark resolution would have on the enemy, since a benchmark resolution is essentially a suggestion about how you might measure progress that you assume follows from the surge plan.  It is an act of oversight inspired by support for the plan and demonstrates an interest in being able to gauge what kind of progress is being made.  Leave it to two such fine legal minds as Hewitt and Barnett to miss the crucial distinction between this sort of resolution and the more obviously critical language of the Biden resolution.  In their rather depressingly poor understanding of the matter, “resolution” = betrayal, so whenever they hear someone proposing a “resolution” (no matter what it says) they suppose that it is proof of that person’s irresolution on the war.  I submit to you that these sorts of people have no business speaking publicly about matters of grave national importance, much less should they hold any sort of popular leadership role that might significantly influence others.

Here’s my take: Put aside how rambling and unfocused it was. Maybe that can be chalked up to a bad night or fatigue. But to speak for 50 minutes or so and not to talk about the Iraq war before a conservative audience at a crucial moment in that war is bizarre and just wrong and almost offensive [bold mine-DL] in my view. This doesn’t seem like an oversight. He went out of his way to check off every conservative box—except the one that is politically risky at the moment. The rest of his foreign policy stuff—when he talked about Iran and the broader war—felt very shaky and about an inch deep. His account of how he came to change his view on abortion—through the issue of stem-cell research—isn’t very compelling and he would probably be better off not talking about it at all. Fairly or not, people aren’t going to believe it. ~Rich Lowry

I think it’s plenty fair, but then I am one of those people who don’t believe it.  Of course, he can’t not talk about it.  He has made it a central part of his makeover from Massachusetts squish moderate to Romney, Conservative Iron Man.  To avoid talking about it now would be to admit that all of his critics’ charges of insincerity and opportunism were correct, which would prove that the man will say anything for votes.  No, he has concocted his implausible “conversion” story, and now he must live with it.  Watch the video of his NRI speech and note his wandering, aimless delivery, his tiresome rattling off of his accomplishments, as if it were just some boilerplate stump speech, and the laundry-list, conservatism 101 nature of the speech (liberals want, uh, they want to increase the size of government and that’s, like, bad!).  Be warned–he drones on for around fifty minutes, so feel free to skip ahead. Look at the video at 32:16, where he informs his audience that “bloated social spending” is called “the welfare state,” in order to get a sense of the thin gruel he was dishing out.  The applause from the audience was suitably weak and scattered.

The whiff on Iraq is particularly amusing to me.  Here is Mitt Romney, Hugh Hewitt’s hero, at a friendly conservative gathering that is going on at the same time as Hugh Hewitt’s ridiculous pledge drive, and he says nothing about Iraq at all.  Imagine how many lackey points he could have scored if he took that opportunity to come out against the Senate resolutions.  I think Hewitt would have declared him fit for exaltation.  This is even funnier when you consider that his pro forma pro-surge position has been one of the things the Romneyites online have been using to bash Brownback and show that Romney is a better candidate.  Yet, when it came time for him to speak at some length about Iraq before a receptive audience, he had nothing.

To date, most of the discussion of Obama–on the part of those who favor him and those who are uncertain or skeptical–has been impressively race-neutral.  In the absence of evidence, Beinart’s focus on race, and his dismissal of white support for Obama as an odd kind of racialism, are not a public service. ~Cass Sunstein

Yeah, Beinart, what’s wrong with you?  I mean, what does Beinart think?  Does he think that every story that has covered Obama has started with the background statement, “the son of a white mother and a Kenyan goat-herder” or “the mixed race son of a white American and a Kenyan raised in Indonesia and Hawaii” or opens with the theme ”Barack Obama’s compelling story is the meeting of two worlds divided by race”?  Well, actually, he would pretty much be right.  Every narrative that talks up Obama as a “new” kind of black candidate, and every column that questions his black “authenticity” all pay homage to Jackson/Sharpton style of politics of race-hustling as they recognise the established pattern from which Obama is deviating.   This is the style that many white people find so dreary and obnoxious, and this is the style they have come to associate with black politicians, so many respond to Obama with joy and relief: “At last, a black candidate who doesn’t talk about being black!  He doesn’t try to make me hate my ancestors–I think I like him!”  As I have said before, I really don’t understand this attitude

The relatively positive response to Obama across the spectrum is actually the fruit of a generation of imbibing egalitarian attitudes that purport to make race a secondary or irrelevant distinction.  Because Obama purports to transcend or unite races through his bland optimism and his personal history, he can pose as the “uniter” of American politics in spite of his far-out left-wingery, since a great many Americans have received the message that race is one of the great stumblingblocks in American history and Obama superficially appears to be someone who can help to fix part of this.  That he can speak in a religious, universal idiom undoubtedly helps advance this image of Obama, because that idiom provides a common point of reference for many whites.  Plus, by showing support for Obama they can demonstrate that they, too, are helping to heal the divide, etc.  Having been exposed for many a year to preppy white liberal self-flagellation over the plight of minorities, I find that this entire explanation sounds entirely plausible. 

Because Obama is “different” from the old style and because–according to some of his more trenchant critics–he isn’t black the way black people with long family histories in this country are black, he does not carry the baggage of that heritage and does not feel obliged to bring it up all the time.  Having been appropriately sensitised by decades of political moralising about race, most white Americans desperately want to see black success stories because they have internalised, at least to some degree, the feeling that past injustices have so crippled black Americans that they are somehow indirectly to blame for their problems.  These success stories–especially immigrant or second-generation success stories–also contribute to a sense of national pride and a confirmation about the “land of opportunity.”  Obama’s story tells them that they, white Americans, can stop blaming themselves.  When Obama paid tribute to the trailblazers in the civil rights movement for paving the way that allowed him to be where he is today, he was right in more ways than one: one of these ways is that without a traditional regimen of instilling self-loathing and guilt in white Americans, a black politician who does not traffic in guilt and blame would not seem to be the exceptional figure that the media have now made Obama to be.   

All of the mainsteam media cooing and oohing about his candidacy has been anything but race-neutral.  Race-neutral?  Are you kidding?  How many times have you heard that Obama will be the “first serious black contender for the White House” (what makes him a serious contender, when he stands no chance of winning very many primaries, still remains a mystery to me)?  You have heard this many times.  Everything positive that has been said about Obama has been  implicitly acknowledging that “we like Obama because he isn’t like traditional black candidates.”  That I basically agree with Beinart and argued very much the same thing as he did before he wrote his article doesn’t change the facts that the coverage of Obama’s candidacy has been anything but race-neutral.

The fact is that a suave, inexperienced Senator of no particular distinction would not receive this kind of superstar treatment were it not for his race and the novelty of his candidacy.  He receives such attention in excess because the media believe they have found at last a nationally viable black candidate to become the nominee of a major party.  You can lament this or praise it or dismiss it, but what you can’t do is pretend that it isn’t happening.  John Edwards was, in terms of government experience, actually a little behind where Obama is now when he ran for President and received a fair amount of attention, but he was never the subject of a media phenomenon characterised by such embarrassing overkill as we have witnessed over the past two months.   

Related query: doesn’t it trouble Mormons and blacks that their respective potential “firsts” in ‘08 are someone with badly compromised records or someone seriously lacking in experience?  Is it not a liability for these communities that their most prominent representatives in politics right now are almost certainly overhyped, overexposed and unable to match up to what are inevitably going to be excessive expectations of success?  Doesn’t it bother Mormons watching the Romney campaign that their most public political representative stands accused of blatant waffling and pandering on a whole range of issues and that, in effect, the first real potential Mormon nominee is likley to go down in flames as a flip-flopping fraud?  The risk here is that they do not represent the pioneers who are leading the way for others, but may in fact make future candidacies from their communities even less likely to win if they fail.

Looking back at my pre-election predictions about Obama’s intentions about running, I am embarrassed to admit that I got it wrong.  Back on 16 October I wrote:

Obama does not want to become the John Edwards of the future, and therefore will not run in two years.

Obviously, that was not right.  I do stand by my prediction that Obama ‘08 will fail.  I don’t say this to be particularly hard on Obama–lots and lots of no-hopers are going to fail.  Let’s be clear about that much–Obama is a no-hoper this time around.  He may be an interesting no-hoper, but he is one nonetheless.  His campaign’s failure is entirely predictable, which is why it remains hard for me to understand why he is running this time.  In the next cycle, he stands a good chance of being up against a weak incumbent, no matter which party wins in ‘08.  In the cycle after that, depending on his performance in the intervening years, he might very well stand as the heir presumptive to the Democratic nomination.  Rather than a hard-scrabble, desperate insurgent campaign to unseat HRC, which will probably succeed in knocking the nomination over to someone else entirely, he might have a chance to be virtually given the nomination in ‘12 or ‘16.  (The even more hyped-up expectations for a later Obama campaign would be so great than not even the Aesir could live up to them.)  A true Machiavellian would let the next chump handle the aftermath of Iraq and then step in afterwards.  As it stands, Obama is going to go into this election in wartime with all the foreign policy experience of an international relations major.

To be clear, I don’t care where these men stood on life 13 years ago. ~Nathan Burd, Evangelicals for Mitt

How about five years ago?  How about two?  Romney’s pro-life credentials are slightly younger than Mr. Bush’s second term.  Isn’t that relevant?  Whatever his views before 1994-95, Brownback has been an obviously prominent pro-life Senator.  If there were doubts about his commitment about that, he put them to rest a while back.  Gov. Romney has only been a declared pro-lifer for a little over a year–what kind of record can he possibly have put together in that time that begins to match Brownback’s?  There really is no comparing the two.   

An old Amy Sullivan article for Washington Monthly on Romney’s “evangelical problem” from 2005 included this interesting tidbit that has lessons for Ryan Sager and Romneyites alike:

These latent evangelical concerns about Mormonism don’t pose much of a problem in the general course of political and social life. In the real dynamics of a campaign, though, they are huge vulnerabilities, waiting to be exploited. To see how this might happen, take a look at the 2002 gubernatorial race in Arizona. In that campaign, Democratic state attorney general Janet Napolitano faced popular Republican congressman Matt Salmon for the open governor’s seat. A month before election day, the race was neck-and-neck, when a third-party candidate named Dick Mahoney began running a television commercial that raised Salmon’s Mormonism in the context of a Mormon fundamentalist sect that openly practices polygamy on the Arizona/Utah border. The ad was offensive and was immediately denounced by religious and political leaders. It was also effective.

On election day, Salmon lost to Napolitano by a razor-thin margin. Napolitano won in part by picking up votes among moderate female voters, but also because Salmon ran far behind congressional candidates in the most conservative and heavily evangelical districts. In each of these precincts, his support was between 10 and 20 points lower than right-wing congressmen Trent Franks and Jeff Flake. Exit polls aren’t available for 2002, but a look at the precinct results makes it clear that some of these conservative voters must have even split their tickets, casting a vote for Napolitano while also backing the extremely conservative congressional candidate.

When trying to understand how Arizona, once the land of Goldwater, has become Janet Napolitano’s fiefdom, her narrow victory over Matt Salmon evidently thanks to the effect of a third party’s egregious (and false) anti-Mormon attack is instructive.  Democratic control of the Arizona governorship in 2002 did not come about because the GOP alienated libertarians through big spending and religion.  Anti-Mormonism broke the GOP in Arizona in 2002, and effectively handed the Governor’s Mansion in Phoenix to the Dems for eight years. 

In 2002, any evidence of the themes of religion and big spending during the Bush Era had not yet become fully formed in any case, and 2002 was the year of the first Khaki Election.  In neighbouring New Mexico, Richardson won anyway, because all but die-hard partisans would have sooner voted for Richardson than the nobody state senator, John Sanchez, the GOP ran against him.  In Arizona, the Democrats very nearly lost, and we might have talking about Matt Salmon’s re-election this past fall but for the crippling weakness of visceral, ignorant anti-Mormon sentiment among Salmon’s own partisans. 

This means that at least two of the five governorships Ryan Sager takes as evidence of libertarian defections into the Democratic camp because of GOP excesses in religion and big government went over to the Democratic side for entirely different reasons.  It also means that the explosive potential for visceral anti-Mormonism in a generally ignorant voting public is huge and may add to the already tremendously large numbers of people who have already said that they will not support a Mormon for President.

Another instructive lesson from the Salmon episode:

Salmon lost evangelical votes at the polls even though he enjoyed the backing of evangelical leaders, some of whom denounced the anti-Mormon ads. Arizona Republic political columnist Rob Robb told me that Salmon’s support from evangelical leaders “did not translate into support among evangelicals at the grassroots.” “Around here,” he said, echoing my childhood experience, “evangelicals are regularly instructed that Mormonism is a cult.”

This is why the roll-call of evangelical leaders who have so far shown their willingness to consider Romney’s candidacy may ultimately be meaningless.  Falwell and Bauer et al. can talk about how they don’t care about Romney’s theology and how they want to focus on the issues all they like, but the people who normally heed their words will still withhold their support.

Separately, here was one line from the article that serves as a priceless example of how quickly things can change in politics:

It’s hard to see evangelicals lining up behind Romney instead of, say, Virginia Sen. George Allen.

This is from September 2005, so at the time Allen did look like a formidable competitor for the nomination.  Can it really have been as recently as one year ago that people still took George Allen seriously as a major player on the national stage?  What a hoot!

Barack Obama does not put the fear of God into conservatives quite like Hillary does. But the Republicans know they would need a charismatic candidate to take on a man with such a phenomenal life story — the son of a Kenyan goat-herder running to be the most powerful man on earth — and presence. ~James Forsyth

Only in America would the epithet “son of a Kenyan goat-herder” be considered a compliment and proof of someone’s inherent virtue and near-mythic stature.  Everywhere else, probably including Kenya, it would be a heavy-handed insult designed to put you in your place. 

As I tend to, I liked a lot of what he said — he’s a Mr. Fix it (business, Olympics, Massachusetts budget…) who came to a full appreciation for the dangers to human life and marriage afoot only as governor. But in a dinner speech that mentioned bond caps, he didn’t make the case for Romney 2008 in a rallying way. ~Kathryn Jean Lopez

He only came to a “full appreciation” of the dangers to life and marriage while governor?  Forget “full” appreciation–before he was governor, according to everything he said on the trail, he had no appreciation of these dangers and only discovered that these dangers existed at all in the last two and a half years.  Do you suppose Ms. Lopez would be as credulous if Giuliani were campaigning against the dissolution of the family or something else to which he would be a very recent convert? 

Now, bond caps–I’m sure that’s something that we can all get behind.  Well, all of us, that is, except for John Edwards. 

I’d just note, as I have before, that no part of America is actually “libertarian.” Bad ideas like the minimum wage are going to pass pretty much anywhere you put them on the ballot. But, relatively speaking, this is a region that wants low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives. It’s a broad definition, to be sure, but I’m convinced it’s closer to libertarian than liberal. ~Ryan Sager

Er, okay, and I’m convinced that it isn’t.  How’s that for an argument?  Perhaps if libertarians and their champions would present more of an argument for why “low spending and little regulation of people’s private lives” constitutes a more libertarian (or dare we say “libertarian-leaning”?) view than it does other possible alternatives, we could debate the merits of that argument.  If we’re simply listing things that are only debatably libertarian and then declaring, “I prefer to call this the ‘more libertarian’ position,” we might as well go home and have a drink.

Sager’s column doesn’t do much better.  Here he cites evidence that the Interior West is becoming more “purple” in a centrist Democrat way (i.e., socially liberal, fiscally conservative):

Data from the Pew Research Center show that when it comes to issues of religion and morality, the Interior West is much closer to the socially liberal Northeast and the Pacific Coast than it is to the South. At the same time, however, folks in the Interior West are fairly conservative on fiscal matters.

This means that the region is going the direction of the politics of the DLC, the Concord Coalition and Dick Lamm (former Democratic governor of Colorado, one-time Reform Party VP nominee in ‘96).  If you want to call DLC centrism and old Reform Party-type politics “more libertarian than liberal,” knock yourself out, but you will not be describing anything that most can recognise as a libertarian politics. 

Sager’s definition of “more libertarian than liberal” fits nicely with the vague definition Boaz and Kirby used to determine the size of a “libertarian” voting bloc.  In their estimation, to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative effectively makes you a libertarian.  Except that everyone and his brother knows that it doesn’t make you any such thing–it typically makes you a moderate Republican, who has no strong objection to most of what the government does (so long as it does it “efficiently” and within budget) and who may not even have a problem with, say, the government providing funding for abortion.  Like Mitt Romney of old, they would have balanced budgets and no “imposing” of moral beliefs on others–if that’s all it takes to be functionally libertarian, it doesn’t mean very much.  No outrageous deficit spending, and no “unnecessary” tax cuts–these are the golden rules of the moderate Republican/fiscal conservative.  (With a slight tweak, that definition could even work just as easily for some neoconservatives, whose incandescent moral outrage about Iran does not necessarily extend to any social issues here at home.) 

In any case, Sager’s thesis that religiosity and big spending have driven away some voters who had supported the Republicans in the past but who have now switched sides may be partly correct.  These things probably did alienate some voters in the last six years.  Almost certainly, excessive spending and the war had far more impact on the voters who bolted than did superficial God-talk that resulted in literally no policy proposals of any significance in the last four years.  It is Sager’s hits on the pernicious influence of religious conservatives on the party’s fortunes where he is least convincing, but that is not part of this column. 

The main problem is that the people who are switching sides aren’t “libertarians” in the Interior West, but are these moderates, centrists, and independents–David Brooks’ suburban managers–who recoil at the sight of Republican incompetence and budget imbalances mixed with what they, the suburban managers, may regard as demagogic intolerance.  Even among Boaz and Kirby’s libertarian-leaning voters, the GOP’s share of their vote stabilised between 2004 and 2006 after a notable drop-off between 2002 and 2004.  That means, as I have tried to argue before, that those whom Boaz and Kirby defined as libertarians stopped fleeing from the GOP during their two worst years of war, religious enthusiasm (think Schiavo), reckless spending and corruption revelations.  The things that were supposed to be driving away libertarians got worse in those two years, and yet these libertarians remained in essentially the same numbers as they had in 2004, which either means that they aren’t terribly libertarian or the GOP’s hemorrhaging of support is coming from an entirely different part of the coalition.  Neither is promising for claims of the importance of the libertarian vote or the importance of libertarians to the GOP.  Neither is exactly a ringing endorsement for the theory that the GOP is losing ground in the West because of neglect of libertarian voters.

As far as New Mexico goes, I would simply say, for the umpteenth time, that Richardson’s two victories do not contribute to evidence for a regional trend away from the GOP.  His competition was anemic in both races (he was all but unopposed this last time for most of 2006, and faced an extremely weak challenge for the last few months of the election), he had enormous advantages in name recognition and popularity to start with and he has a natural majority Democratic vote in New Mexico that he can rely on.  The last point distinguishes our marginally ”red” state from everything around it. 

 

There are a couple especially odd moments in that old footage of Romney’s 1994 Senate debate that struck me when I watched it recently.  First, he affirms that he believes that abortion should be “safe and legal,” going on to say that he has held that view ever since his mother took that position during her 1970 run for Senate.     

The even more odd moment comes a little later, when he explains why he and his mother took that view.  As he is fleshing out his commitment to a “woman’s right to choose” and defending himself against Kennedy’s “multiple choice” accusation, he comes up with a personal tearjerker story worthy of Al Gore: a “dear family relative” of his had died from an illegal abortion, which was what had convinced him and his mother to defend “abortion rights.”  “It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter.”  His mother’s 1970 Senate campaign was apparently a pivotal moment in the evolution of Mitt Romney, since he reiterated his story about it just five years ago, as recounted by Jennifer Rubin in The Weekly Standard this week:

In much the same manner as he had done in the 1994 Senate debates, Romney repeated his pro-choice views later that year in the October 2002 gubernatorial debates, even invoking his mother, Lenore Romney, who favored abortion rights when she ran for the U.S. Senate in Michigan in 1970. 

Now, after at least 32-34 years of consistently following through on that conviction informed by the loss of his relative, he had a change of heart because…someone talked to him about stem-cell extraction?  It just doesn’t track.  (It also doesn’t help that the account of his ”road to Damascus” meeting with Dr. Melton doesn’t match up with Melton’s view.)  Virtually no one becomes pro-life by way of concerns about ESCR–usually, one opposes ESCR as the logical conclusion of an already serious pro-life view.  From The Boston Globe’s feature on Romney’s “evolution”:

“In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw where the harsh logic of abortion can lead — to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited,” Romney wrote in an op-ed in the Globe that July.  

His statement is correct, but think about how he phrases this.  The “harsh logic of abortion can lead” to embryo farming, and Romney is right to abhor this (if, in fact, he does abhor it), yet for millions of people it is much easier to see the evil of killing a fetus or an even more fully developed child in the womb while the importance of protecting human life to its earliest stages appears increasingly abstract and difficult to follow.    You don’t need to follow the “harsh logic of abortion” to its ultimate conclusions to see how profoundly unethical and wrong abortion is, but can see in the basic assumptions of personal choice, autonomy and “rights” that allow such a horror the unethical nature of the act.  In the killing of partly and mostly fully developed children in utero, one has all the evidence one needs for the evil of the act.  Does Romney really mean to tell us that until 2004 he hadn’t noticed any possible ethical problems with killing unborn children in the second or third trimesters?  It required an insight into the processes of ESCR to convince him that something unethical was going on? 

If he has, in fact, had an “awakening” on this and related matters, that’s well and good, but why should anyone particularly trust a Johnny Come Lately to the issue with the presidential nomination?  (Speaking of which, while Brownback was freezing on the Mall marching in the March for Life, Romney was in Israel helping to stir the pot for a new war with Iran–now tell me who has the greater credibility as a defender of human life?)  Why should anyone assume that he would expend real political capital in trying to effect meaningful changes in the law or in appointing suitable judges to the bench, when he has only just yesterday discovered his commitment to the sanctity of life?  More to the point, virtually no one goes through most of his life believing that it is fundamentally wrong and inappropriate to “impose” moral beliefs on others and then discover, after having the highly technical question of stem-cell extraction presented to you, that he should start imposing those beliefs.  It is such a rare, fundamental and complete transformation of the entire view of the appropriate relationship between “personal beliefs” (as Romney had always called them before) and public policy that it would have to make any observer very skeptical. 

That his change to being pro-life would come by way of one of the most convoluted areas of the debate and one of the thornier questions in bioethics has to strike a neutral observer as odd at best.  Those who already have reason to distrust Romney can hardly take it seriously.  That his change of mind has just happened to coincide with Mitt Romney’s appearance on the national scene and his preparation for bigger and better things beyond Massachusetts is too perfect.  The entire ”evolution” of Romney is like a how-to guide for politicians to do complete 180s while pretending to appear deeply thoughtful and committed to whichever new position he takes.  The problem is that he was already setting himself up for the national stage by the time when, in mid-2005, he finally (for the first time) declared himself to be pro-life, so his “deeply thoughtful” stage comes off appearing as little more than early pandering.   

Romney might or might not have actually believed his tearjerker story at the time that he recounted it in 1994, but how is this really any different from Al Gore’s pained remembrance, c. 1996, of his sister’s death from lung cancer (and thus his deep, personal motivation to fight Big Tobacco) that had replaced his former enthusiasm for the stuff?  Back in ‘88 he said, as some will remember, “Throughout most of my life, I raised tobacco. I want you to know that with my own hands, all of my life, I put it in the plant beds and transferred it. I’ve hoed it. I’ve chopped it. I’ve shredded it, spiked it, put it in the barn and stripped it and sold it.”  His sister had, of course, died in 1984, so it evidently took a while for the evils of tobacco to become apparent to him.  In a similar way, through 2002 Romney seems to have clearly held fast to an Obama-like shtick about not wanting to endanger women’s lives by outlawing abortion and even had a personal story that he could use to convince people of the sincerity of his commitment not to “impose” his beliefs about abortion on other people.  What is to stop him from reverting to form and returning to the position he held quite comfortably for three decades?  You can almost see the national address in which a President Romney (let’s just imagine this impossibility for argument’s sake) describes his thoughtful and difficult discovery that, actually, it is wrong to impose his personal beliefs on others and his brief flirtation with pro-life views was simply another part of his ongoing “evolution.”  “You live and learn,” he will say.

There is great wisdom in the Psalmist when he says, “Trust ye not in princes.”  If the defense of human life remains bound up in the arcana of intra-GOP political squabbles, it will continue to be exploited as a way to mobilise voters and dupe those voters into supporting candidates who may not really share their commitments.  It will continue to be diverted to the margins and pro-lifers will probably achieve far less this way than if they diverted most of their energies to changing cultural attitudes through other kinds of work and advocacy.  The conscious and unconscious modeling of the pro-life movement as a political struggle movement borrowing its templates from abolitionism and civil rights activism is unfortunate in many ways, but it is most unfortunate in its fixation on finding redress through the political process.  Tere is a basic incongruity between the goals of the pro-life  movement and the fixation on using the mechanisms of government to advance that movement’s goals; the movements whose rhetoric pro-lifers copy were progressive movements that were well-suited to the encouragement of government activism and the violation of precedents, while pro-lifers have long been diametrically opposed to these things. 

Because so many pro-life activists have been geared towards politics for so long, this has encouraged in them the tendency to accept spokesmen for their cause who usually give their issues the most basic lip service, a little access and not much else.  For their pains, they have received two Court nominees who affirmed in sworn testimony that they considered Roe the settled law of the land–and this has been their greatest “victory” in twenty years!  They console themselves with the idea that “at least they [Roberts and Alito] probably won’t make it any worse,” yet it was a Court with a majority of Republican appointees who decided Casey, cementing Roe into the legal structure as sure as anything could have.  When push comes to shove, I think we all know that the Roberts Court will reconfirm those rulings if the opportunity arises.  Those appointees got there in part because pro-lifers backed the Presidents who nominated them, because pro-lifers were satisfied with occasional nods to their concerns and nothing more.  By putting such an emphasis on capturing the Presidency as the means to their success, and consequently settling for nominees who simply had to mouth the right pious phrases during the campaign, pro-lifers have set themselves up time and again to be ignored and marginalised once the elections have come and gone.  In the rush of some pro-life Christians and conservatives to the Romney banner, we see the same farce unfolding before us yet again.  This time, it is even more inexcusable, when there are at least two reasonably credible pro-life Republicans running against Romney, at least one of whom has an outside chance at being competitive.  

Invariably, politicians will be unreliable and untrustworthy.  That is a given, and anyone disappointed by politicians would be well-advised to stop expecting much at all from them.  Even Mr. Bush, who at least had a longer record of at least publicly posing as someone who was pro-life than Romney has had, has been fairly abysmal when it comes to what should have been the relatively easy decision about whether to allow federal funding for stem-cell research (his mighty veto of last year was simply a veto of a bill that would have increased the funding levels he had previously approved).  Imagine what kinds of compromises and sell-outs Romney might accept.  The sincerity of his ”conversion” is almost beside the point, since it is potential lack of commitment for such a recent “convert” that strikes his critics as a key problem. 

Update: Referring to the Planned Parenthood questionnaire Romney filled out in 2002, Matt Yglesias makes a good, concluding point:

As you can see in the Medicaid answer, he wasn’t even a moderate on the issue — Romney was taking a strong, strong pro-choice stance. Maybe pro-lifers just enjoy being lied to, but I think it’s got to be obvious at this point that you can’t trust anything Romney says on the subject of what he thinks about political issues. It doesn’t seem like a quality you’d want in a presidential nominee.

I think many pro-lifers really want to believe that someone could go from Obamaesque levels of support for abortion to Brownbackian fervour opposing it.  These folks really want to believe that the obvious rightness of their position should win over their most staunch adversaries.  According to the questionnaire he filled out five years ago, Romney used to be one of the most staunch adversaries of the culture of life and has now supposedly become one of the most staunch advocates of the same.  Indeed, Romney seems to be counting on the idea that the extreme and brazen nature of his flip-flopping proves that it isn’t just flip-flopping, but a real change of heart.  I can’t rule out that it is genuine (unlike Mr. Bush, I do not possess heart and soul-vision), but usually when a candidate repudiates a view he has apparently held for decades at the moment when he is preparing to run for higher office (where said older view would be a distinct liability with his future core constituents) we do not assume this is proof of the man’s deep spiritual journey or a miraculous awakening.  No, we assume that he is a fraud and a liar.  Why should we assume anything else in Romney’s case?  Because we like the sound of the lies he is telling us?      

It has really gotten out of hand.  It’s not even February of ‘07, and we’re practically drowning in exploratory committees.  If this horrifying rumour is true, the race will have already entered its terminally silly phase (normally reserved for the period between South Carolina’s primary and the conventions that is also known as “the election year”).

It’s not as if the sheer mass of candidates has brought us any increase in quality.  Forget Munchkinland–we are on our way to Lilliputian levels of political stature (the candidates’ egos, however, are evidently Brobdingnagian in proportions).  When Obama spoke of the “smallness of our politics,” this was not what he had in mind, but it fits the scene pretty well. 

How many are there?  Last week I counted seventeen, and that’s still about right.  Let’s go over it again and marvel at the teeming crowd of unsuitable pole-climbers.  On the one side, you have HRC, Obama, Biden, Dodd, Edwards, Kucinich, Richardson, Vilsack and Mike Gravel (Mike who?).  What a crew!  Sharpton could always liven up the mix and bring us to an even ten.  On the other side, there is the Terrible Trio, naturally, plus Brownback, Hunter, Thompson and Huckabee.  Paul, Tancredo, Hagel, Pataki and Gingrich are also possible entrants (Paul’s exploratory committee seems to be very much on the tentative, exploratory side right now and not on the “I’m rolling out my campaign” side).  If all those listed jumped in, that would make for twenty-two.  Don’t Evan Bayh and Mark Warner feel silly for not running now?  Compared to some of the no-hopers out there, they are practically shoe-ins to at least get the VP nod.  If the field gets much bigger, the logistics of the early debates will be a major obstacle all their own.  Fortunately, except for the few fence-sitters already mentioned it would appear that we will be spared an additional wave of candidates.

The day you’ve all been waiting for is here: Mike Huckabee…has announced the opening of his exploratory committee!  Try not to get too excited.  From CQPolitics:

Huckabee is launching his presidential exploratory effort upon completion of a tour promoting his book “From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 Stops to Restoring America’s Greatness,” which focuses on his gubernatorial policies.

The “Hope” in the title refers to his rise from humble beginnings in the town of that name, which also is the boyhood home of a former Arkansas governor-turned-president, Democrat Bill Clinton. Huckabee has a political action committee named Hope for America.

Still, the once portly Huckabee is far better known nationally for his 2005 book, “Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife And Fork,” that focused on his successful efforts to shed about 100 pounds through diet and exercise — prompted by being diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes.

I can already hear the words of Huckabee’s formal announcement: “America is a great nation, because it is a hopeful nation.  If we ever lose our hope, then we shall surely regain the weight that we have shed using my deficit-reducing diet budget plan.”

The heartland of America, under the pressure of a mismanaged war, has been slowly turning on this president. There is anger out there — as we found out in November’s elections.  When the most socially conservative Republican candidate for president, Sam Brownback, opposes the surge in Iraq, you know change is real. ~Andrew Sullivan

Think about that statement for a minute and ask yourself: of what possible relevance is it to changing attitudes about the war that Brownback is the “most socially conservative candidate for president”?  (That’s a claim Duncan Hunter might dispute!)  Brownback remains a hawk.  This is the same old Sam “kill ‘em with the kindness of unprovoked invasion” Brownback who voted for the authorisation of the war and has been a reliable defender of it ever since.  His opposition to the “surge” has obscured this, and earned him hatred on the right and a place of honour, so to speak, as one of Hugh Hewitt’s special targets for punishment.  Yet in the announcement of his candidacy, Brownback could not have sounded a more conventional rah-rah note on the war:

We are a nation at war. I just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops–the finest, most courageous people our nation has to offer–are fighting for the cause of liberty in places that have never known her. It is a long fight. We will win. We cannot lose our will to win! We must win to redeem our troops’ sacrifice. Let us resolve to have a bipartisan strategy for the war. We need unity here to win over there. This is not the time for partisanship on any side. Lives–and our future–are at stake. 

If Brownback is channeling Middle American anger, he is doing it in a very oddly optimistic and cheery way.  If he is a real agent of change on Iraq war policy, I will eat my hat.  He wants a “bipartisan strategy” on the war, and perhaps he thinks that’s what he’s helping to craft in supporting the language of Warner’s resolution, but whatever it is he’s doing he is not the blaring horn of heartland frustration with the war. 

So why does Sullivan keep prattling on in his dreary “Vive La Resistance” tone about Brownback’s opposition to the proposed “surge”?  Sullivan is deeply enamoured of two myths he has been weaving around Brownback’s increasingly half-hearted, qualifier-ridden opposition to the “surge”: the first is that Brownback’s rejection of the “surge” is deeply significant because it portends a great GOP backlash against the war (here I believe he is completely wronginside the GOP support for the war remains stunningly strong); the second is that there is some kind of necessary connection between Brownback’s social conservatism and the war that makes Brownback’s dissent particularly meaningful (hint: it doesn’t). 

The latter myth is more understandable given Sullivan’s bizarre view of the state of the modern GOP: according to him, it is a “religious party” dominated by “fundamentalism,” which is a phenomenon that somehow obviously leads to support for big government and the Iraq war.  In other words, Sullivan has come to dislike or criticise religious conservatism, big spending and the war, and therefore they must all be linked in some overarching “fundamentalist” takeover.  Therefore, if a religious conservative now criticises the new “surge” plan (even if he actually supports a smaller, Warneresque surge into Anbar and has no fundamental objections to continuing the war) this is proof that big changes are happening.  Big changes may be happening, but Brownback–an odd duck in GOP politics if ever there was one–does not represent them.  Big changes may be happening, but the social conservatives whom Brownback does represent are not part of them.  Indeed, Brownback’s social conservatism is almost entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand.  The degree of his social conservatism is really neither here nor there.  Many longtime antiwar conservatives are no less socially conservative than Brownback, and some may even advance a social conservative rationale against the war (e.g., one cannot be for aggressive war and also for the sanctity of life at the same time), but that is not what is happening here. 

This brings us back to the first myth about Brownback that Sullivan has been pushing.  Sullivan gives the impression that it is a Big Deal that Brownback opposes the surge, seeing it as a sign of an impending GOP turn against the war.  I think this is because Sullivan seems to mistakenly see all opponents of the surge as holding a view similar to his, which has gradually evolved to a pro-withdrawal position.  Here he could not be more wrong.  Brownback is opposed to the ”surge” plan because he believes it is an inferior plan and does not bring us closer to the victory he believes to be imperative.  He has repeatedly objected to the “surge” because he is skeptical of the possibility of a “military solution,” and he said numerous times that we need a “political solution” in Iraq, which is rather like saying that the decapitated man needs a head.  It is undoubtedly true at some level, and yet it is not a meaningful answer to the more significant problem.  In the case of Iraq, that problem is apparent impossibility for a unified country to continue to exist without communal bloodshed.  For this, there is no “political solution” consistent with current U.S. policy that makes a unitary Iraq non-negotiable.  That policy must be fundamentally changed to allow for partition, which is the only “political solution” anyone has come up with that will “succeed.”  Partition, however, would obviously be even more destabilising in the long term to the wider region than withdrawing and watching Iraq collapse into frenzied violence. 

In any case, Brownback is not anti-surge because he has somehow morphed into an “antiwar evangelical,” to use Sullivan’s completely inaccurate designation for evangelicals who oppose the surge, but is against the Bush version of the surge because he thinks there is a “political solution” to be found, which simply duplicates the central error of Mr. Bush’s plan.  This error is to regard Maliki and his government as trustworthy actors.  Mr. Bush’s military plan presupposes Maliki’s good faith and independence to make the security side of the plan work; Brownback’s “political solution” chimera is completely dependent on the notion that Maliki is something other than Sadr’s handpuppet.  In this way, it is possible to view Brownback’s opposition to the surge as being even more unwise than Mr. Bush’s plan because it proceeds from the same key false assumption about political reality in Iraq.  All in all, the more we learn about why Brownback opposes the surge, the more antiwar conservatives have less and less reason to view him kindly.  Needless to say, that Brownback has decided to separate himself from the rest of the ‘08 field with his “surge” position likely does not indicate anything about the views of social conservatives generally with respect to the Iraq war. 

The Republican Senators whose names have been associated with these resolutions have been, almost to the last man, incumbents who will be running in closely competitive races in ‘08 or who are finding themselves in increasingly Democratic states.  I don’t assume they are being purely cynical, but they are covering their flank against charges of being Mr. Bush’s flunkeys (charges of which they have been very guilty in the past) to be able to compete in states where the war is probably far less popular than the national averageThat is where change is coming from.  Sadly, it is not coming from the rebellion of hitherto loyal, war-supporting conservatives, but from the increasing revulsion of every other part of the country at a war that most self-styled conservatives still refuse to bring to an end.     

 

Matt Yglesias has lately started trying to clear a path through the impenetrable bramble that is the foreign policy non-debate about American-Israel relations and the influence of pro-Israel lobbying groups and pro-Israel hawks on the shape of American Near Eastern policy.  Predictably, he has received a lot of grief for making some observations that seem controversial mostly to those who foreign policy and pro-Israel views are more or less implicated in what he writes.  Ezra Klein has a little more on this point.   

It was therefore inevitable that someone should call forth the memory of Charles Lindbergh, every internationalist’s favourite American pinata and hate-figure from the 1930s.  Lindbergh is their target primarily because of his 1941 Des Moines speech for the America First Committee.  Yglesias replies here to the Lindbergh comparison.  In his response, Yglesias easily sees why Goldberg reached so very deep into his bag of tricks for this comparison (what with comparisons between foreign policy debates of today and the 1930s being so rare and unusual at NRO):

I’ll cop to not actually knowing anything about the real historical record of Lindberg [sic], but I take the point of the reference to be a not-so-thinly veiled effort to once again call Wesley Clark and myself anti-semites.

In fact, it isn’t veiled at all.  On the right today, flinging the name Lindbergh (even while pointing to posts where you acknowledge that the person being referred isn’t really nearly as dreadful as everyone would normally take him to be) at anyone has a very simple purpose: to impute on the one hand horrible anti-Jewish prejudice (of which Lindbergh was supposedly guilty) and to imply that the person’s foreign policy views are profoundly immoral (because they are like pre-WWII “isolationism” in some way).  Goldberg makes whatever qualifications about Lindbergh that he does in order to show that he seems to possess some more detailed understanding of the man than the “cartoonish demonization” of him allows, but essentially accepts the fruits of that demonization and relies on the “cartoonish demonization” to do most of the work in his anti-Yglesias post.  He takes it for granted that his audience will read the name Lindbergh and summon to mind the “cartoonish demonization” that generations of New Dealers, internationalists and jingoes have cultivated and made into a conventional part of the narrative of American history.  In this way, he endorses that demonisation and confirms that he is employing the comparison primarily for the purposes of demonising Yglesias. 

It’s a pretty effective, if unethical, rhetorical move, not entirely unlike the well-known Ciceronian ploy of vicious character assassination dressed up as a sort of concession to the accused, “I’m not going to talk about the man’s despicable nature and how he has betrayed his wife and friends…I am going to talk about the matter at hand.”  Thus Goldberg effectively says: “Have you noticed the similarities between Yglesias and Lindbergh, whom I despise?  They’re not entirely similar–they’re just similar in all of the worst possible, anti-Semitic ways.  But don’t take this as an insult, Matt, because I have relatively less contempt for Lindbergh than most people who use these sorts of shoddy attacks.”   

In the exceedingly simple calculations of certain interventionists who use these attacks, if Lindbergh was an anti-Semite and he opposed entry into WWII, it was probably from bad motives and sneaking sympathy with the Axis–both which have been pretty unfairly imputed to Col. Lindbergh.  You can read the Des Moines speech and see for yourself how well-deserved these charges of prejudice and sympathy with the Axis are.  I think it is fair to say that they are essentially untrue.  Those charges represent one of the more famous examples of disgusting lies being deployed against a sincere patriot trying to keep his country from needless war. 

It also somehow follows for such interventionists that whatever held “true” for Lindbergh could be applied in broadbrush fashion to pretty much anyone in the America First Committee and, later, to anyone who looks back at the AFC with anything other than mocking derision.  The demonised caricature of Lindbergh can be readily used against those modern-day non-interventionists who happen to be opposed to the foreign policy views of these very interventionists and pro-Israel hawks, especially when more than a few of these hawks are Jewish.  I’m not saying that any of the connections interventionist make along the way really make any sense, but it is what interventionists and internationalists today often do whenever they fear that a new crop of “isolationists” (i.e., conservatives who think American interests are not served by hyperactive foreign policy and at least one major military adventure per decade) is on the rise.   

Yglesias also catches Goldberg in one of his attempts to read in a message to his opponents’ views that isn’t there.  Goldberg wrote:

Regardless, Lindbergh believed Jews were pushing American foreign policy in an unhealthy direction, and so does Yglesias and, more significantly, so does Wes Clark.

That isn’t what Yglesias or Clark said.  They weren’t speaking about “Jews” as a whole or abstractly as some single-minded entity, as the criticism implies, since everyone understands that these claims are bound to be riddled with exceptions and it can be questionable even to make such sweeping claims.  Come to think of it, essentially no one makes such claims about “Jews” generally.  (This is why it is so crucial for interventionists to circulate the lie that neocon is a “code word” for Jew, so that they can pretend that opponents of these hypernationalist, pro-Israel militarists of all backgrounds are saying outlandish things about “the Jews” when they are not.) 

Goldberg often inserts such a gross overgeneralisation in someone else’s argument.  Here is one example that comes to mind immediately.  When someone makes a specific accusation about a certain faction or interest group, if any one of the accused is a Jewish person Goldberg will declare that the accuser has made outrageous generalisations about “the Jews.”  This allows him to dismiss the charge as absurd on its face and proof of the accuser’s bias, when the only one who has made outrageous generalisations and absurd claims has been Goldberg.  But Yglesias has some fun with this:

Look back through this current controversy and you’ll see that I don’t accuse “the Jews” of having a pernicious influence on anything. If you do want to talk about “the Jews” as a class, we’ve had a beneficial impact on US foreign policy lately, voting in overwhelming numbers for congressional Democrats, putting Nancy Pelosi in the Speaker’s Chair and thereby somewhat restraining Bush’s poor national security policies. 

 

In his 30 minute speech, Guliani recited a long list of things he did as mayor of New York and applied them successfully to the city in a speech with long stretches without applause or laughter. The New Hampshire crowd, eager for some lift after suffering historic losses at every level in November was stirred only when Giuliani made odes to freedom, low taxes, and New York’s firefighters. His obligatory nod to the state’s “Live Free or Die” motto early on was rarely matched again in the laugh-free adress. The Upper East Side Republican made no mention of social issues. 

New Hampshire supporters for candidates Tom Tancredo, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Duncan Hunter mingled among the crowd of state party regulars with signs and stickers. Few activists sported “Team Rudy” stickers. Operatives for the campaigns were seeking commitments from crucial locals.

——————

The crowd was capable of traditional political tub-thumping enthusiasm. It roared with approval shortly after Giuliani left when former Congressman Jeb Bradley announced that he will seek to recpature the seat he narrowly lost in November after 2 terms. ~Hotline

I spent Saturday in Manchester, NH where Rudy Giuliani was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Republican State Committee. I plan to write a longer piece on this for our main website on Monday, so I don’t want to go into too much detail here. But the bottom line is that the speech was very well received, and after speaking extensively to NH Republican activists, it became clear to me that the primary is very much in play for Rudy, and social issues, while an obstacle, will not be a deal breaker for him here. The closest thing I found to a consensus view was that it’s very early, voters want to get to know each of the candidates a lot better before making a decision, but the door is definitely open for Giuliani. ~Philip Klein

The door may be open, but if Hotline is to be trusted (and it usually is) it sounds as Giuliani didn’t do terribly well.  It doesn’t sound as if his speech was all that well-received, unless silence is the new measure of approval of politicians’ public speaking.  It sounds as if Giuliani’s ground game in N.H. lags behind a number of other campaigns, and it seems that few are very excited about him–and he has to be the most nationally well-known candidate in the field, which makes his relative unpopularity at this stage worse than it would be for anyone else. 

The primary may be in play for him, but he doesn’t seem to be playing very well in the primary state.  Obligatory qualifiers: it’s early, there’s still a lot of time for Giuliani to gain ground, etc.  However, if this coming primary season is going to be significantly altered by the onslaught of states moving their primaries to early February and if N.H. goes so far as to move their primary back into ‘07 to retain their place as “first in the nation, the clock is already ticking down.  Giuliani may only have a little over ten months to get his act together, and for the last two months he has dithered.  Right now, he is technically still not an announced candidate for President.  He is frittering away time he doesn’t have and losing opportunities to snatch up the politicos in the early primary states, all of which contributes to uncertainty about his campaign and gives his competitors every advantage.  Before long, he may slip behind Brownback in National Journal’s race rankings.

Hewitt is certainly within his rights to try to influence the Senators of his party, and 25,000 names is hardly political chicken feed. Larison may well be right that if the war is not resolved quickly, it will divide the GOP (which has hardly covered itself with glory on other issues). I still don’t know, however why he is so excited about this particular issue. ~Grumpy Old Man

It’s true that I have been giving Hugh Hewitt a lot of grief for his pledge drive this week.  For me, I don’t know that five posts constitutes a “great deal of time,” since when I really get on a tear about something the posts dedicated to it number in the dozens (for instance, my focus on Romney & Mormonism), but the reason why I have dedicated this much “space” and time to the subject is to illustrate a number of grave problems with Hewitt and the mentality that he represents.  He is within his rights to draw up petitions and speak his mind, but when his petition is ridiculous and his speech obnoxious it is only fair that others point this out. 

All of this does turn on a military plan that I, in my admittedly amateur estimation, regard as being insufficient because of its excessive reliance on a government known to be essentially Sadr’s puppet.  It is because of this same central fact, essentially unacknowledged by the administration (and ignored by the Hewitts of the world, even when it leads to the abandonment of an American soldier in enemy hands), that I assume no good will come from this plan and that the better alternative is to begin considering how to get Americans out of Iraq rather than find new ways to send more there.  If someone proposed a plan for Afghanistan saying that we would improve security for the Karzai regime by relying heavily on the forces of the Iran-backed and inveterately hostile Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, I would be similarly unenthusiastic and regard supporters of this plan as holding the wrong view.  I would take an even more dim view of someone who insists that those who object to this pretty obviously bad plan are encouraging the enemy, when to the eyes of the critics the plan is a plan premised on effectively handing over immense responsibility to a government effectively held hostage by one of the enemies of American forces in the country.  I would be even more annoyed if that same person took his mistaken view to be the self-evident moral truth of the moment and demanded, on pain of political punishment, that elected members of Congress toe the line in support of this bad plan.  I would find this mistaken view to be fairly disgusting if it stands in complete contradiction to the view the person held in the previous year when it was considered the pro-administration and anti-Democrat thing to be against reinforcements.  I would be even more appalled by the person’s political agitation if the basis for his ridicule of dissenting Republican Senators was that the President and the commanding general said the resolutions would send the wrong message, as if that settled the issue.  A sudden deference to military judgement is passing strange for the crowd that has never cared a whit for the opinion of any military officer, active or retired, no matter how distinguished or decorated, if he has said something that does not match exactly the signals coming from Mr. Bush.  I regard the pledge drive as an act of prostration at the feet of Mr. Bush.  To put it bluntly, I loathe people who would prostrate themselves at his feet in this way on a matter of no small importance.  

There appears to be no thought as to whether the claim made by Gen. Petraeus is actually true, and there seems to be no consideration for the possibility that a non-binding resolution is the pathetic Senate’s way of avoiding a real constitutional confrontation with Mr. Bush that may well come if fools like Hewitt get their way and intimidate a sufficient number of Republicans to prevent consideration of any resolution.  No, as far as Hewitt and friends are concerned, support for one of these resolutions is equivalent to desiring defeat and cannot be motivated by anything other than narrow political considerations.  Of course, it’s true that many of the dissenting Senators from the GOP are concerned about their political future–because the war is widely unpopular and the public does not support the “surge”–but in their dissent they are trying to reflect the beliefs of their constituents.  Representative government of this kind evidently offends Hewitt, and he seeks to mobilise the forces of a pro-war faction to stop it from working as it otherwise would. 

The entire episode is a perfect example of every bad trait frequently exhibited by die-hard Iraq war supporters: unthinking adherence to the President’s line, contempt for any dissent, no matter how serious and no matter the immensely strong pro-military records of some of those (such as Sen. Warner) who are proposing resolutions against the plan, and the reflexive accusation of something very much like treason for failing to possess the wisdom of a lackey to just shut up and accept whatever he is told.  Top that off with an underlying contempt for the procedures of our own representative government, and you have a very nasty phenomenon on your hands.  It is a glorified exercise in bad citizenship that holds itself out as a true-blue defense of patriotic loyalty.  We have seen all of this before, in late 2002 and early 2003, and the results of allowing this sort of mass abdication from serious thought are what have brought us to this sorry state today. 

I reacted as strongly against all this as I have because I find the entire attitude behind it inherently offensive and all together too similar to the fairly mindless endorsement of presidential claims that helped pave the way for the war itself.  The nation listened to the very poor guidance of men such as Hewitt in the past, and we have been paying for their ignorance and servility ever since.  Most Americans have learned to ignore people like this, but the idea that these same people will be able to pull off another political victory, albeit an ultimately Pyrrhic one (because Hewitt will help to wreck the GOP’s ‘08 chances if he ties these Senators to the “surge”), through the usual fear-and-smear tactics that helped start this war greatly troubles me.       

The whole point of the video and the posting, however, was that it illustrated how almost exclusively Shiite forces are beating Sunni residents, and clearing Sunni neighborhoods, with tacit U.S. support. ~Andrew Sullivan

This comes in response to Mickey Kaus, who called Sullivan on what I also consider to be multiple inaccuracies in his posting about a video.  About the video, Sullivan writes:

Here’s a disturbing video showing U.S soldiers watching as their Iraqi Army colleagues - Shia - brutally beat Sunni civilians to near-death, as U.S. soldiers hoop and holler in support. 

It is true that it shows Shia Iraqi Army soldiers beating on captured Sunnis.  They are civilians in that they are not members of a military.  They are, however, apparently irregular fighters who are carrying around mortars.  They are not being beaten to “near-death” from what we can see.  They are being gratuitously beaten, since they have already been subdued and captured, so there is good reason to be less than impressed, to put it mildly, with Iraqi Army discipline.  The video gives the impression that the Shias in the Iraqi Army are failing in the effort to win “hearts and minds,” which I suppose is true and is the far more relevant point to be taken from the video.  However, the clear misrepresentation of the video from Sullivan was designed to give the impression that these soldiers were caught on camera engaging in something close to murder of prisoners and that our soldiers sat there and cheered it on.  That claim, which Sullivan quite clearly made, is false. 

It wouldn’t surprise me if Iraqi security forces have been and still are engaged in the murder of their sectarian rivals, but I assume they aren’t doing it in joint operations with our soldiers.  The video also shows the mutual sectarian cleansing of formerly mixed neighbourhoods, and does not primarily show the “clearing” of Sunni neighbourhoods.  The “clearing” of Sunni neighbourhoods is at best implied. 

Not surprisingly, Kaus is right and Sullivan isn’t.

Update: The distinction Sullivan is fumbling for in his Dershowitzian confusion about what constitutes a civilian is that between combatant and non-combatant.  By anybody’s fair estimation, someone driving around with mortars is going to be considered a combatant because he obviously intends to deliver and/or use that mortar to attack and, if possible, kill in war.  If they were engaged in the beating of random men off the street just because they happened to be from a different sect, Sullivan would have had more of a point.  But, since he got the facts of what the video showed basically wrong, he doesn’t have much of a point at all.

A top GOP staffer says more than 70 senators would oppose the surge if their vote matched their comments in private meetings. “The White House is trying to but they really don’t know how to handle this,” said a senior GOP aide involved in the talks.

White House officials are pleading with GOP senators to oppose any congressional resolution that specifically condemns Bush’s effort to escalate the war effort in coming months, congressional sources said Friday morning. In private conversations, the officials are telling senators that the resolution would demoralize U.S. troops and hurt the GOP politically for years to come. ~The Politico  

That figure of “more than 70″ presumably means more than 20 Republicans reject the “surge” as a plan, but only about six of them appear willing to consider actually voting that way.  (These would be the Senators Hewitt’s Hordes are targeting for retribution.)  I would say that it is the 14+ other Republican Senators who seem to be engaged in the worst political cowardice, supporting something they don’t believe will work because they are too afraid of breaking with Mr. Bush. 

The thing that will hurt the GOP politically for years to come is the image of the senseless Republican perpetuation of a war the American people have not wanted to be in for over a year and now wish to see concluded in short order.  That image is being burned into the public mind by these last two years of Mr. Bush’s presidency, and each time the Republicans bind themselves to Mr. Bush on Iraq the more they ensure that they will go down along with his approval ratings.  Mr. Bush has said that the Republican position is that they want to win in Iraq–so why does he pursue a plan that even almost half of the Senators from his own party do not, in fact, believe will achieve that victory?  How long does he expect the public to endure his hectoring that we are demoralising the soldiers by inflicting on him some slight political embarrassment of congressional repudiation?  Imagine how much greater the embarrassment would be for Mr. Bush if not even a non-binding resolution reached the floor of the Senate, thanks to his browbeating, and the “surge” went exactly according to plan and still achieved essentially nothing.  Is Mr. Bush really more prepared to definitely expose additional soldiers to death and injury in Baghdad operations than he is willing to see a potential dip in their morale?    

That sounds right to me. Aside from the obvious fact that Democrats are hungrier than Republicans because they’ve been out of office since 2000, the Republican field is remarkably weak this cycle. Compared to Democrats, who have half a dozen genuinely strong contenders, John McCain is really the only high-profile candidate they’ve got, and even he’s hardly setting the world on fire. It’s pretty amazing, really. From being on top of the world a mere two years ago, Republicans are having trouble just treading water these days. ~Kevin Drum

I often disagree with Kevin Drum, but his analysis here on the strength of the field seems right.  The field is pretty pathetic any which way you look at it.  Certainly from the conservative perspective, it is appalling, but simply as a matter of putting up your A List people as potential nominees this field is simply a joke.  Can it be true that the presumptive leaders of the pack are John McCain, a former New York mayor and some guy from Massachusetts? 

Then again, come to think of it, 2000 was a pathetically weak field for Republicans, too.  Few people from either party wanted to take on Gore, whose advantages many assumed were too formidable to overcome.  1996 wasn’t that much better.  It was considered Dole’s ”turn,” and few wanted to try to unseat an incumbent President.  The resulting GOP coronation and Democratic landslide showed the basic flaws in the GOP method of picking nominees and confirmed the great difficulty of throwing out an incumbent President.  The tendency towards coronations of presumptive frontrunners, from which we may be spared this time (perhaps yielding a Carter-like nominee out of the chaos of a tumultuous primary season!), has been a blight on Republicann politics for a long time.  Sometimes the presumed favourite stumbles, but normally Republicans are embarrassingly good about pre-selecting their leader and then getting behind him to win the election.  This has worked out well, as far as electoral success goes, since Republicans will have held the White House for 36 of the last 56 years at the start of 2009.  As a method of picking the best leaders and the most competitive candidates in every election, it is far less successful.

Still, the weakness of Republicans heading into ‘08 is striking considering how confident and arrogant they had become after ‘04.  The weakness of the field is stunning in another way, since there are probably at least three Republican governors running around out there who would be natural candidates for ‘08 in a less disastrous cycle who are almost certainly not running.  Jeb Bush would obviously be one, Mississippi’s Haley Barbour is another and Alabama’s Bob Riley is the third.  As it is, all of the conventional wisdom about ’06 has said that the GOP relied too much on its “Southern” wing and disparaged its “Western” wing, all of which is tied into deeply questionable and (I think) very wrong assessments of what Western Republicans represent in the party.  The repudiation of Bush and the GOP in ‘06 was supposed to be a rebuke to Southern Republicans, which has never made a lot of sense to me, but there it is.  That probably contributed to Barbour and Riley assuming that they had no chance in an ‘08 competition.  Bush has obvious reasons to not make the attempt this time. 

The disaster of ‘06, brought on by horrible GOP misrule, helped make sure that Minnesota’s Pawlenty squeaked through rather than romp to a big win, thus potentially setting him for a bid of his own (as Richardson’s effortless re-election did for him in New Mexico).  Now he has signed on as McCain’s right-hand man.  Very poor decisionmaking and leadership by Mitt Romney at the RGA helped to make sure that Bob Ehrlich would not be back in Annapolis because the RGA wasted valuable and limited resources on ridiculously lopsided, Democratically-favoured races in Michigan, Iowa and New Mexico, and that in turn ensured that Ehrlich would never even have the chance to consider a run.  Mitch Daniels’ self-inflicted implosion in Indiana can be separated from the woes of the national GOP, but that also explains why he is suddenly on the political fast-track to nowhere.  Republican governors considered capable, effective and smart were once found in abundant numbers.  Now the best they have to offer is…Mitt Romney?  Good grief. 

During the Bush Era, supposedly a time when Mr. Bush was doing such a bang-up job of party-building, the Republican candidate ”farm system” of governors in the states dried up or was tapped for the absurd purposes of filling Bush’s first-term Cabinet.  We now laugh at Tommy Thompson’s ‘08 bid, but he was once considered a likely prospect for the White House before this administration shunted him off into the political Nowheresville of HHS (what hurts Thompson’s bid this time is the fact that he accepted such a position).  Tom Ridge would have had legions of problems with the social conservatives in the party, but he was once considered a fairly formidable political talent.  Then again, having seen his performance at DHS, perhaps it was a good thing that we were spared a Ridge presidential run.  (Separately, when John Engler failed to deliver Michigan for Mr. Bush in 2000, his hopes of his own bid in the future more or less died.)  The Bush administration leaves in its wake not just a shattered party, but one in which all of the minor princes of the party have been more or less ruined by the mistakes, extravagance and excesses of the emperor.  His idea of party-building was to tie the party to himself so closely that it became dependent on him.  Now that he is visibly faltering and failing, the entire structure is suffering massive withdrawal.  The field this year is so weak because the GOP allowed all of its sinews (and its brain) to atrophy during the high times of the Bush ascendancy.  Apres le Decider, rien.   

Eric Kleefeld at TPMCafe notes the Tsongas vote in his post on Gov. Romney’s three donations to Democrats in the ‘92 cycle.  There was something rather funny about the phrase “and even voted for Tsongas,” as if voting for a relatively moderate Democrat were such a far-out thing for Romney to have done in a decade when he derided Reagan and Bush and declared that his commitment to securing gay rights was stronger than Teddy Kennedy’s.  By comparison with some of his other decisions in the ’90s, his vote for Tsongas might be one of his redeeming features.  At least he didn’t vote for You Know Who.  That might have been the final dealbreaker.

These new donation revelations are a mixed blessing for Romney.  On the one hand, it blunts the McCainiac attack that he puts his fellow Mormons ahead of the GOP (which would actually have been a mark in his favour, as far as I’m concerned), but it helps advance the purpose of the McCainiac attack, which was that he has not been a reliable supporter of Republicans in the past.  However, this merely confirms something we already knew, so I’m not sure how damaging it really is.  If voters believe that Romney’s views have genuinely changed, they will dismiss all of this as irrelevant.  If they don’t buy his “conversion,” it wouldn’t matter to them if he had donated a million dollars to the RNC every year since 1992. 

The donations hurt him in that, as Mr. Kleefeld showed, his pattern of donations seem to track awfully well with the relative popularity of the two parties.  For the period 1990-92, his donations to the GOP vanish after reliable donations to the state committee throughout the ’80s.  In 1994, he rediscovered enthusiasm for the Republicans in his run against Kennedy (trying, one would assume, to get in on the anti-Clinton backlash that was already evident from the start of the year).  The old pattern suggests somebody who wants to be aligned with the winning side.  Arguably, he has broken that pattern simply by remaining Republican in this horrendous political environment.  Nonetheless, it contributes to a general sense of uncertainty a lot of Republican voters will have about him.

The problem, of course, comes when Brownback insinuates Gov. Romney’s pro-life positions aren’t authentic simply because he’s changed over the years. ~Nancy French, Evangelicals for Mitt

Of course, it isn’t just Brownback who says this.  I don’t think he insinuates it, either–he directly questions Romney’s credentials.  Brownback is perhaps not the best messenger for making accusations of conversion for political convenience.  I have noted Brownback’s 1994 discovery of the importance of the sanctity of life during a tough primary fight.  The important differences are that Brownback has been toiling away in the trenches, so to speak, in the pro-life cause for a good while longer than Gov. Romney on the one hand and never ran as far to the left as Romney did in the past on the other.  This gives Brownback a certain credibility Romney doesn’t yet have and gives us all good reason to doubt Romney’s convictions. 

Romney’s change of mind has come about in exactly the last four years, which happen to have coincided very nicely with the period of time when he was no longer going to be running for statewide office in Massachusetts and had begun looking to the national stage.  It could be the case that the timing was incidental, and it could be that his change of mind was completely sincere (or at least as sincere as one can expect in a politician).  However, the timing together with his past record of holding essentially opposite views give voters every reason to suspect that Gov. Romney is trying to play them (more than the average politician).  One of the questions Romneyites need to be able to answer is this: on the issues that matter deeply to them, why should social conservatives gamble on Romney when they know they have a reliable representative in Brownback?   

Now faced with a new global threat, that of terrorism from Islamist extremists, we could sure use some of that type of creative and bold thinking. What would George Marshall and Dean Acheson be doing now? At the top of their list, I suspect, would be forging a new version of NATO. They might call it MATO: the Mideast Antiterrorism Organization, a military, police, intelligence and security mutual-defense alliance between the West and our moderate allies in the Middle East. ~Walter Isaacson

We certainly could use some bold, creative thinking.  So why is it that every single proposal put forward by people who talk about the “different kind of war” we’re fighting and the need for new and creative ideas sounds like a canned propaganda spiel from the 1950s?  If these people are not falling over themselves to make WWII references and make hints about their opponents’ desire to appease Nazislam (this seems to be some Europeans’ answer to our idiotic neologism of Islamofascism), they invoke Cold War precedents…for a war that is supposed to be unlike all previous major conflicts.  This is an understandable impulse, but whatever it is it isn’t “bold and creative thinking.”  If Marshall and Acheson were around today, I would be sorely disappointed in them if the best they could do was to cook up another version of NATO.  First of all, it’s been done already and it was done to counter the particular threat of the USSR.  Therefore, it is probably unsuited to combating jihadis, who are not preparing a massed tank charge through the Lachin Corridor or some other blunt, conventional attack that would be readily checked by anything resembling NATO. 

Mr. Isaacson is talking about a security cooperation and mutual defense pact, which sounds interesting at first, but has at least one glaring problem: it assumes that the “moderate” allied states regard the Quartet of Malevolence (Secretary Rice has listed them: Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas), or whatever we’re calling it now, as their enemies.  That would mean that Jordan would declare itself hostile to Hamas (which would cause the monarchy endless problems at home), the “Iraqi government,” so called, would declare itself hostile to Iran and Hizbullah (probably bringing about the assassination of whichever prime minister was stupid enough to sign the treaty) and Turkey, let’s say, would declare itself hostile to Syria.  This last opposition might in turn reignite the conflict that nearly led the two to war in 1998.  If the alliance includes Israel, as Mr. Isaacson suggests, I think it is safe to say that few other states would join.  Even the Turks, who have established a military alliance with Israel, are much less enthusiastic for their current arrangement than they once were.  Tightening those connections would likely go over very poorly in modern Turkey.  

Another obvious flaw is the name.  No one will respect something called MATO.  It’s not even a proper acronym.  Mideast Antiterrorism Organisation gives you MAO, which will hardly play well with voters here at home.  “I’m proud to say that I voted to ratify the MAO Treaty,” a Senator will say.  His audience will gasp: “You voted for Mao?  Communist!  Traitor!”  You think I’m kidding, don’t you? 

Most annoying is this line by Ms. Isaacson:

Another challenge would be to ensure that the new alliance does not inflame the sectarian divide in the Islamic world, which could happen if it is seen as a Sunni cabal against the Shi’ites.

It wouldn’t just be seen as a Sunni cabal.  That’s exactly what it would be (plus the odd, unlikely membership of Israel and, of course, the U.S.).  The only reason why all these disparate states would feel the need to join together under a formal treaty arrangement is that they feel threatened to one degree or another by Iran and fear the growth of specifically Shi’ite power within their lands and abroad.  Since he likes Cold War models,  his worry about fomenting sectarianism would be like the founders of NATO worrying that it might “be seen” as a fundamentally anticommunist organisation.  You should certainly hope that it would “be seen” this way, since that is one of the reasons why it came into existence.   It is fine to worry about fomenting sectarianism, but then perhaps it would be better to not commit to a policy of hostility towards the major Shi’ite players in the region. 

Tell them the lefties are outraged –a very good sign. ~Hugh Hewitt

Are they really?  There’s no mention of the pledge at The Plank.  Searches for related material at Huffington Post have come up with nothing.  One Kossack took brief note of it, but didn’t seem terribly concerned.  Gleen Greenwald seems to have written the most about it.  He rightly disparages it, but talks about it as an example of the servile habit of yielding to the decisions of the executive and military commanders as if they possessed sole authority.  It is that terrible habit that he is disparaging.  The pledge itself is just an embarrassing confirmation of this servility.  If “the lefties are outraged,” they are doing an unusually good job of keeping it under wraps. 

If I were a lefty blogger, I would have little to say about this spectacle of Republican blogging insanity.  I would just sit back and watch with a smile as my opponents imploded in a paroxysm of irrational, self-destructive rage.  Oh, wait, that’s exactly what one blogger at MyDD is doing:

But it’s hilarious in terms of the worldview of these clowns.  The progressive blogosphere has grown up around rewarding good behavior, by running our own candidates against those who the Beltway denotes the presumed victor.  The conservative blogosphere can only think in terms of punishing bad behavior.  They’re not going to find their own “rightroots” candidates (that concept failed so miserably because they simply found a bunch of people the NRCC and the NRSC picked for them anyway).  They’re going to hurt the party and try to make it bleed (though, as I said, it’ll probably be a pinprick).  

With the exception of these couple of notices on the big progressive blogs, that’s about it.  They’re not outraged.  They’re laughing at you, Hewitt, as am I.  Dave Weigel at Hit & Run is having a few laughs at your expense as well.  There is nothing that the Democrats would love to see more at this point than to watch Republicans start cannibalising each other to defend a war that should never have been started in the first place.  Hewitt has started putting in overtime to help them realise this dream. 

This blogger has given us this startling reminder: if you undermine Norm Coleman, you will get…Al Franken.  He also reminds us that it was Hewitt who called for party solidarity in support of the re-election of Arlen Specter.  Some things are worth fighting for, and others are expendable.  So, to recap: for Hewitt, stopping a non-binding resolution is worth sabotaging GOP chances of retaining their current Senate seats, but ousting a pro-abortion Senator in a primary contest isn’t worth the risk.  Glad to know he has his priorities in order. 

Outside of their own echo chamber, who, besides a few small-time bloggers including myself, has even noticed this little snit fit?  Andrew Sullivan has noticed.  He doesn’t agree with the pledge, but he doesn’t really care, either.  The professional political pundit blog, Hotline’s Blogometer, did take note of the pledge drive.  They mention it in the context of the blog right’s decreasing influence and weakness over the past couple years.  That’s an interesting point.  I have been pointing out the political stupidity of this drive on the assumption that Hewitt and friends actually wield real influence among GOP voters and could seriously damage the electoral prospects of vulnerable Senators up for re-election next year.  (It strikes me as fairly stupid, since it is Hewitt who is the near-mindless defender of the GOP and all its crimes, so he should be the last one to sabotage their electoral chances.)  These Senators are probably more focused on their weaknesses with voters beyond the Republican base, and may prove to be indifferent to the threats and blandishments of Hewitt’s thousands. 

They’ve racked up over 19,000 20,000 people in a couple of days, which is somewhat impressive.  Then again, when you consider the number of people all these hundreds of blogs are reaching on a daily basis, it should actually be surprising that such a relatively small number have pledged to not give money to any of these Senators (especially on such a profound issue as stopping a non-binding resolution!).  A pledge to not give away your own money to Republicans for any reason should be getting hundreds of thousands of signatures at this point.  As Clark Stooksbury has shown, almost anyone can sign the pledge in good conscience, knowing that there is no danger that he would be contributing to the NRSC or any of these candidates.  It’s a pledge a lot of us could very easily keep. 

John Tabin at AmSpec’s blog hits Brownback for his support of Warner’s resolution with its half-a-surge proposal.  Here’s the description from the Lawrence Journal-World:

Instead, Brownback, a Republican senator, said he favored a proposal by U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that has been described in reports as endorsing a much smaller troop increase in the western Anbar province of Iraq, while also supporting the president’s authority over U.S. forces.  

This is the option that Norm Coleman also seems to like.  Why do Coleman and Brownback like it?  Because it doesn’t send American reinforcements into the middle of a sectarian civil war.  That seems to the major problem that they have with the “surge,” as well they might, but they seem oblivious to the futility and wastefulness of sending more reinforcements to Anbar. 

Sending reinforcements to Anbar means that you support fighting the Sunnis in the west, but that you don’t want to get embroiled in the possibility of having to fight both sides or being forced to take sides in Baghdad.  Not wanting to get embroiled in the civil war in Baghdad is smart, so give them credit for that.  Wanting to increase troop levels in a country whose government is increasingly unreliable and bent on communal revenge, no matter where you put them, strikes me as foolish.  At some point, once you secure other parts of the country and the sectarian government wins its bloody triumph, there will eventually come the absurd situation where their push to punish and marginalise Sunnis will run up against our soldiers’ mandate to provide security in areas where Sunnis live. 

Besides, since the political fate of Iraq hinges on what happens in Baghdad, limiting reinforcements to fighting insurgents in Anbar simply goes back to what the military was doing in 2003 and 2004.  If the fear is one of escalation into even bloodier civil war and a spiraling nightmare of attack and reprisal between rival communities, attacking the roots of the problem in Baghdad would be best if you actually think there is a remote chance of success.  Clearly, supporters of the Warner resolution are not convinced of that.  Indeed, many of the opponents of the Democrats’ resolution are not convinced that this will work. 

The trouble is that the Iraqi government is connected to one of the roots of the problem and has become an essential part of the problem.  That ought to convince these Senators, who are so wary of entering into the middle of a civil war, to support an alternative plan that finds a way for Americans to leave Iraq in short order.  (Yes, that’s right, in short order.)  If they don’t want Americans in the middle of a foreign civil war, they shouldn’t want Americans in Iraq (or at the very least in non-Kurdish Iraq).  That ought to be their position.  Their timid half-measures, aimed at buying themselves some cover back home and creating some distance between themselves and the Democrats to avoid the impression of selling out to the “defeatists,” leave them in the unenviable position of being foreign policy Mugwumps. 

Brownback had achieved some distinction as the only ’08 candidate to oppose the “surge.”  Now he has muddled that message and put himself in the bizarre position of having to say, “I am for escalation in some parts of Iraq, but not in others,” or “We should fight insurgents, but not death squads.”  This will draw hearty chortles from his opponents in the race, and it will tend to damage his credibility with voters as a foreign policy hand.  In other words, Brownback and supporters of the Warner resolution accept that the bloodletting in Baghdad is unavoidable and should be considered the Iraqis’ problem, which is true, but remain convinced that the rest of Iraq remains our problem.     

And if things continue on their current path in Iraq, Hagel will look a lot better to the GOP grassroots. ~Rod Dreher

Maybe.  I really want to believe that the GOP grassroots are not the people who listen to what Hugh Hewitt and the like tell them to do, because if they are I see no one with a remotely rational foreign policy platform focused very specifically on the national interest making any headway on that side.  When I think of the GOP grassroots, my parents come to mind: these are the sorts of sane, responsible, temperamentally and philosophically conservative people that I used to associate with the phrase “GOP grassroots.”  These days, I’m not quite sure what to associate with that phrase.  I would like to think that many conservative activists in the GOP, whatever they believed last year or the year before, have started to view the entire Iraq episode with horror, and that the loudest voices who claim to represent “the grassroots” are, as they often are about other things, simply full of it.  However, that was the kind of wishful thinking that caused me to be deeply shocked and stunned five years ago to find that most people calling themselves conservatives embraced every bad hegemonist idea offered to them. 

Whatever else anecdotal evidence may tell us, numerous polls have consistently placed GOP support for the “surge” at or around 60%.  That’s hardly overwhelming for a policy that is supposed to be so obviously well-conceived and necessary for victory, and even that support may evaporate quickly, but it places a formidable barrier in front of a potential candidtate, such as Hagel, who has distinguished himself so far this year by being the only Republican to formally oppose the new plan.

The 11th Commandment for liberals seems to be, “Thou shalt not intervene out of self-interest.” Intervening in civil wars for humanitarian reasons is O.K., but meddling for national-security reasons is not. This would explain why liberals supported interventions in civil wars in Yugoslavia and Somalia but think being in one in Iraq is the height of folly. If only Truman had called the Korean civil war a humanitarian crisis, Ike might not have called the whole thing off. ~Jonah Goldberg

Unless I am misreading this very badly, isn’t Goldberg calling Eisenhower a humanitarian interventionist liberal?  Is the reference to “the Korean civil war” serious?  It could only really be called a Korean civil if the Koreans fighting one another were all members of the same polity, which was exactly what they were not in 1950-53.    

It’s late and I have been sick all week, so perhaps I have simply missed the part where this quote is a) correct and b) clever.  I know this is something of a standard line offered by the “hard Wilsonians” and aimed at the “soft Wilsonians”: our interventionism makes sense because it is based in self-interest, and yours is irrational because it excludes self-interest.  That would be interesting, if only it were true.  The two types have much more in common than either one would like to admit. 

More to the point, the more obvious and depressing reason why liberal interventionists oppose some allegedly “self-interested” wars of intervention is that they only oppose these when a member of the other party is in the White House.  The Clinton administration, and many liberal interventionists at the time along with it, obviously never had any problems with the idea of regime change in the name of national and regional security.  They discovered their opposition to regime change in Iraq (oh, sorry, I mean “disarmament and enforcing U.N. resolutions”) when someone else was running the operation.  Much of the liberal opposition, when it was not completely opportunistic and partisan, focused on Mr. Bush’s mistakes in how he was launching an aggressive war, and did not really claim that he was doing anything inherently wrong or unjustified.  Many of the opponents on the left, or at least on the center-left, did not even object to the goal of regime change as presented by Mr. Bush, but wanted it to go through the proper channels with all of the appropriate institutional stamps of approval.  In this way, the jingoes could make many opponents of the war appear rather silly, and all of this helped to make supporting the Iraq war seem like the viscerally patriotic thing to do–after all, everyone knows that real Americans don’t listen to the U.N. or Europeans, and anybody who supports all of that time-wasting procedure must not be very patriotic.  The ”debate” over Iraq was unfortunately carried on primarily between liberals of the “yes, Hussein should be disarmed and/or overthrown, but…” view and the supporters of Mr. Bush’s invasion.  (The non-liberal antiwar dissenters were constantly making their arguments, and were routinely making better ones than many on the left, but these dissenters were unfortunately never really in the main debate.)  I think of that debate as being like a scene where two people driving in a car are both committed to sending their car into oncoming traffic, but one of them wants to make sure that his insurance and registration are up to date before they do this while the other is in a hurry to crash the car.  Both are convinced that it is imperative that they crash the car, but the person who wants to take the slightly slower, more methodical approach to disaster is the liberal concerned with the proper procedure.     

It is true that liberal interventionists do not limit their calls for intervention to what Goldberg would regard as self-interested interventions.  This is why liberal interventionism is in some ways even more dangerous to this country, because there are no obvious limits to where American soldiers will be sent.  If Somalia, why not Congo?  If Congo, why not Zimbabwe?  To which the liberal interventionist will simply say, “One thing at a time.  We’ll get to Zimbabwe, don’t you worry.”  However, in virtually every case I can recall they hitch their do-gooding to some exaggerated definition of national interests and values…just as the current administration does, but arrange them in a slightly different order.  The main difference between “left” interventionists and “right” interventionists is the order in which they list their pretexts (sorry, I mean serious reasons) for invading, er, helping another country: the left will usually talk up the humanitarian side first and then proceed to their poor strategic arguments (e.g., “we cannot allow the Balkans to be destabilised, etc.”), while the right will focus on an overblown sense of the strategic importance of a crisis (”existential threat!”) and then mention that there is also a humanitarian and/or moral dimension (”he gassed his own people!”; “new Hitler!”).  The content of the justification ends up being more or less the same.  

Some of the foremost advocates for action in Darfur on the left are at The New Republic, which has distinguished itself for being for any and all military interventions everywhere for any reason for at least the last fifteen years.  (Their newfound regret for initially supporting the Iraq war is four years late and embarrassingly insufficient.)  They are so frequently in favour of intervention that they would probably have to seriously consider sending an expeditionary force if there was a cat stuck up in a tree somewhere in Tegucigulpas.  “Honduran cat-owners’ anxieties could spark political and social unrest!  Central America might be consumed in endless violence!  We must act now,” the editorial would blare.   

In their way, however, they are convinced that calling for intervention in Darfur is imperative for the national interest, just as these sorts of liberals argued, equally incredibly, that meddling further in Yugoslavia advanced the security of our allies in Europe by “stabilising” the Balkans.  Their legacy is the empowerment of jihad in Europe, the establishment of rampantly corrupt, criminal regimes and a brutal Albanian nationalist statelet in Kosovo whose proposed independence from Serbia could well trigger another round of bloodshed.  The Italians are especially grateful that we have helped shore up such egregious sources of criminality, drugs and human trafficking as Montenegro, Albania and Albanian-dominated Kosovo.  So they have a long record of being impressively wrong about the effects of intervention and our strategic interest in intervening, but they will continue to make appeals to national self-interest and they are, so it seems to me, in deadly earnest.  

This does require them to broaden the definition of self-interest a little.  This redefinition usually involves a lot of hand-waving about the integrity of the international legal system and the genocide convention and American leadership.  Neocons will be familiar, since they used much of this hand-waving when it came to Iraq, and some interventionists on the right (such as Romney) are beginning to use it with respect to Iran.  The difference between the different kinds of interventionists tends not to be on the level of principle (i.e., never intervene in self-interest vs. only intervene in self-interest), since virtually all interventionists are open to a mix of both self-interested and humanitarian meddling.  The difference is that of judgement about the relative urgency and priority of a given intervention.  We’ll get around to Iraq, seems to have been the thinking back in ’02-’03 with many in this crowd, but we have more pressing things to do right now.  No wonder they lost the debate!  TNR has the dubious distinction of buying into warnings of urgent crisis whenever they are made, so that every crisis under an administration of either party leads to their calls for action.  If someone says there’s a genocide in Kosovo, they believe it, no more questions asked, and demand a start to the bombing.  If someone says there are dangerous weapons programs in Iraq, they believe just like that, and support an invasion.  And so on.  The problem isn’t that liberal interventionists never support wars fought in what they might call the national security interest, but that they support any number of wars according to an extremely distorted and false definition of the national interest.  Then again, that’s pretty much what neoconservatives also do.  Their target lists just happen to be slightly different.     

Paul Beston at AmSpec’s blog quotes James Bowman on accusing opponents of being “delusional”:

Generally speaking, the rhetorical resort to the popularized language of psychotherapy should be treated as prima facie evidence of a lack of intellectual seriousness, and that applies in spades to any allegation of psychosis against one’s political enemies.

I think that’s basically right.  So it was funny to see the start of Hewitt’s latest post where he babbles on about his pledge effort and the non-binding resolution against the “surge”: 

The Senate is delusional if it thinks the American people want it to run the war.

Now I don’t suppose we really needed more evidence to question Hewitt’s “intellectual seriousness,” but the time stamps of the two posts made the connection irresistible.

Update: Oh, yes, I almost forgot: in the strange world of Hewitt, even John McCain, who might be called the godfather of the “surge” because of his adamant support for increased numbers of soldiers in Iraq, is no longer pure enough.  He has suggested a resolution that involves benchmarks to measure what success (if any) the “surge” is having.  This is called Congressional oversight.  It makes Hewitt very unhappy.  It supposedly “undercuts” the soldiers now going to Iraq because it, er, wants some standard by which to measure their success.  Clearly, that’s a heinous betrayal by that no-good appeaser (or is it neoappeaser?) McCain.  Here is Hewitt’s take on oversight by the Senate:

To demand more “oversight” two days after confirming the general committed to the new strategy is quite simply political cowardice of the highest order.  They had their “oversight,” and they said yes.  How can any of them send the man off to Iraq and then undercut him before the plane takes off. [sic]  He was clear and forceful.  And they voted yes.

How could we all be so stupid?  Obviously, oversight always stops the minute the vote is finished and…what’s that, you say?  The Senate has a responsibility to engage in oversight on an ongoing basis?  Why would they need to do something like that?  It’s not as if they’re equipped to engage in this so-called ”oversight” with a whole apparatus of committees and…oh, wait.  No, don’t try to confuse me with any of these details–political cowards, every last one of them! 

Actually, that last part is true, but not because they are talking about these resolutions, as Hewitt holds.  Truly serious people on both sides would insist on having up-or-down votes on the meat of the policy that would either fully endorse the White House’s plan or scuttle it.  Maybe someone like a Chuck Hagel would have the courage of his stated convictions and actively work to stop the “surge” all together.  More likely, when the vote really counts, he might just sheepishly line up with his party again, as he did with the authorisation resolution over four years ago.  We are unfortunately left with a parade of clowns who would like nothing so much as to be able to avoid the entire subject.  Because they cannot, they settle for meaningless, non-binding resolutions out of fear of being attacked as “defeatist” and worse if they try to exercise their constitutional powers.  That being said, the clowns are within their rights and have managed to come off looking a good deal more credible than Hewitt and his associates.   

The pledge rests on the premise that Republicans who are supporting the anti-surge resolution are doing so as a craven political play. ~Dean Barnett

Yes, they are engaged in the ”craven political play” of representing their constituents, more than half of whom nationwide oppose the “surge.”  For shame!  Many of these Senators are in increasingly unfavourable political environments in the coming election cycle and must demonstrate some responsiveness to the large non-Republican, non-fanatical constituencies back home.  In fact, some might even suppose that this is the very definition of their duty as elected members of the Senate: to represent their entire state, and not the narrower interests of a single district or especially vocal constituency.  Thankfully, we have Hewitt and Barnett to remind us that this is treacherous and vile behaviour–what would we do without them?  

In the good old days, before the Progressives meddled with the system, Senators had only the most indirect accountability to the mass of citizens–they represented one of the aristocratic elements of our original government and were representatives of the sovereign states through their legislatures.  As an important part of the federal system, they ensured that all states possessed an equal voice in at least one chamber.  Now, in addition to sabotaging GOP electoral chances in ‘08, Hewitt and friends are effectively trying to deny the citizens of the states these Senators represent their due representation through a kind of political blackmail.  Oregonians, Tennesseans, Ohioans, Kansans–fight back and let your Senators know what you think they should do in response to the proposed “surge”!    

Sen. Lugar said a curious thing before he voted against the resolution in committee.  He said:

This vote will force nothing on the President, but it will confirm to our friends and allies that we are divided and in disarray.

Remember that this comes from someone who doubts the efficacy of the “surge” proposal.  Said Lugar: “I am not confident that President Bush’s plan will succeed.”  Now when Sen. Lugar says this, he is apparently not sowing discord and division and announcing to the world that America is split over the war, but had he voted for a non-binding, symbolic resolution that, as he acknowledged, did nothing to stop the “surge” (in which he has no confidence) he would have been “confirming” our division and disarray.  When he announces to the national press, whose stories are transmitted around the world electronically, that he is not confident in the success of the plan, he is not “encouraging” the enemy.  Had he voted for a symbolic, non-binding resolution that changed nothing about the actual proposed plan, according to Hewitt he would be aiding the enemy in Iraq.  Is everyone clear on that? 

Only a senator with levels of vanity off the charts would be indifferent to the message being sent, and the new media support for that message. ~Hugh Hewitt

Right.  10,000 Web denizens and a few hundred bloggers simply must influence the half-dozen or so anti-”surge” GOP Senators.  The only way that this doesn’t happen is if the Senators in question are excessively vain and self-important, unlike, say, the bloggers who started this whole charade.  

In addition to the Senators’ vanity, there is also their supposed willingness to give “encouragment” to the enemy, or, to put it as Hewitt would, their willingness to betray our soldiers and commit a kind of treason.  How do we know that this non-binding resolution would “encourage” the enemy?  Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Gen. Petraeus said so, and therefore no more thought needs to go into it.  Curious, isn’t it, how these are the same kinds of people who moaned and whined about a veritable coup d’etat and a conspiracy against the government last year when six retired generals made loud noises about Rumsfeld’s failures on the job and called for his resignation?  These war supporters had no interest in the expertise and experience of those retired generals–plus, the generals were meddling in the business of the civilian government, and this represented a threat to our entire way of life!  That was the sort of hysterical stupidity that suited prominent war supporters last year.  This year, the mantra is, “Follow the General.”  Anything to back up the administration line on Iraq will do. 

Where the retired generals were supposedly threatening civilian control of the government by calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation, Hewitt et al. are essentially insisting that the Senate should govern its own proceedings according to one answer from Gen. Petraeus–they are demanding that the civilians in Congress take their direction from an active-duty field commander.  To say that this injures republican government would be a gross understatement. 

It is reasonable to say that the Senate should take Gen. Petraeus’ statements into consideration when deliberating on this or any other war-related measure.  If the “surge” made sense to more people in the country and in Congress, and if the proposal seemed to have a reasonable chance of success and a clear, realisable goal, there would probably be no question about passing resolutions to oppose it.  It is because the proposal is such a widely reviled one and one considered unlikely to succeed because of key problems (i.e., the Iraqi government is Sadr’s puppet and pursues narrow sectarian goals in the prosecution of a civil war) that we have reached this impasse.  Now Hewitt & Co. insist that the Senate suspend its duties of oversight and policymaking (not that they were preparing to do anything terribly bold or meaningful anyway) based on one sentence from a general. 

It is absurd to say that the Senators must defer to his judgement in all things because he is the theater commander and because he believes, predictably, that any resolution against the “surge” would send the “wrong” message.  No offense to Gen. Petraeus, who has obviously been one of the smartest and most successful commanders in the entire war, but it is inevitable that he, as the new commander charged with executing this plan, would seek to discourage any opposition to that plan.  His statements should be taken into account, but they cannot be treated as if they were the final word on the matter. 

The main trouble in all this is that the “wrong” message the Senate is trying to send (i.e., Americans are sick of this war and want to bring it to a close as soon as possible) happens to be the truth.  For almost four years, Mr. Bush has used this “let the commanders on the ground decide” dodge as a way of avoiding responsibility for the obvious inadequacies of planning and preparation on the part of his administration.  Hewitt and friends would have the Senate adopt the same pathetic attitude of handing off all real decisionmaking to the executive and the military commanders. They would be fools to heed him and his little band of protesters.    

Hugh Hewitt’s mad, Republican-destroying crusade to stop a non-binding resolution against the “surge” (shrieks of horror erupt) by issuing a threat of a revolt of the base continues.  He has become quite like Kos, but seems to lack all sense of the political implications of what he is proposing (Kos only lacks some sense).  He seems to have gotten to Norm “Hollow Man” Coleman of Minnesota, who, after all, has never exactly been known for his political inflexibility, and he is targeting Alexander, Warner, Collins, Smith, Voinovich and Brownback for punishment.  Of these, Voinovich is not up for re-election and, of course, Brownback is aiming for the White House in ‘08, but all of the others are up for re-election and are trying to insulate themselves from the profound unpopularity of this war and Mr. Bush’s “surge” proposal.  As noted at The Plank, even the well-established incumbent Warner is nervous enough about his re-election chances next year (in Virginia) that he was willing to join with Coleman in trying to break a filibuster of the Democratic version of the minimum wage bill.  Doom for the GOP in 2008 beckons anyway, and Hewitt wants to make it worse than it was already going to be. 

Personally, I don’t care that much whether these Senators up for re-election win or not.  For their hitherto unbending support of the Iraq war, every one of them deserves to be voted out.  I also have plenty of problems with Brownback’s bid for the Presidency, so I wouldn’t exactly be heartbroken if his campaign fails because Hewitt and others stir up people against him.  However, one would think the ueber-loyalist Hewitt would take into consideration the political suicide he is demanding from these men and the marginalisation of Republicans in the Senate that his little revolt could help bring about. 

Considering how desperately and pathetically people like Hewitt pleaded and begged to help keep the GOP in the majority last year, it is strange that he would want to undertake a grassroots effort to destroy the party’s position in many of the nation’s closely contested or even Democratic-leaning states.  The GOP is not yet a regional party, but Hewitt wants to bring it closer to that sorry state.  Any hope of making progress towards regaining a majority in the Senate, or even of simply holding the seats they have, probably disappears if Hewitt successfully foments a revolt against anti-”surge” Senators.  Either he forces them to toe an unpopular line, in which case many will probably lose because of alienated independent and Democratic voters, or they will go against Hewitt’s followers in the GOP base, probably suffer from reduced turnout and lose anyway.    

This is not a protest in the name of victory.  It is a tantrum thrown by an inveterate Bush-worshiper and his allies to intimidate the people’s elected representatives from voting for a non-binding resolution that expresses opposition to a policy that many of the Senators opposed to the language of the current resolution also reject.  Sen. Lugar, as reliable an establishment Republican foreign policy man as there is and thus far a largely unquestioning supporter of the war, doesn’t support the “surge.”  By Hewitt’s lunatic definition he therefore doesn’t support American victory (an end-state Hewitt could not realistically define if his life depended on it).  Unlike Lugar’s slightly more forthcoming colleagues, however, he refuses to put that opposition into any concrete form.  In other words, Lugar wants to stop Mr. Bush from embarking on the course he has announced, and should therefore also be a subversive in Hewitt’s eyes, but because he refrains from voting for a meaningless, symbolic, non-binding resolution he is spared Hewitt’s ire. 

It must be hard to be one of the last nine patriotic Americans still Stateside–it’s clearly putting a strain on Hewitt’s delicate constitution. 

Violent, stupid men who would be the dregs of society under normal conditions rise amid the trauma, chaos and stress and become revered leaders. ~David Brooks

The Politico is reporting that a “well-connected” McCain supporter is “circulating” the fact that Mitt Romney gave $250 in 1992 to the campaign of former New Hampshire Representative Dick Swett (D) has made a point of noting that Swett is a Mormon. Is this an attempt to bolster the Damon Linker note of caution that Mormon politicians hold their faith above their allegiance to their country? ~Marc, Law Students for Romney

Er, no, since the point of mentioning the donation would be that Romney was supporting a fellow Mormon who was a Democrat rather than being a good, little partisan and backing only GOP candidates.  As the story at The Politico says:

“Some activists are beginning to wonder: does Mitt support Mormons over Republicans?”  muses this person.

By “some activists,” of course, the McCainiac means “some activists who support John McCain.”  It’s rather funny that any of Romney’s opponents would attempt to make an issue out of this (if Giuliani tried to question Romney’s party bona fides, that would take some chutzpah).  What I think the McCain people are trying to do here is to cast doubt on Romney’s reliability as a Republican.  This will play on the “flip-flopping” argument that Brownback is using as a club to beat Romney, and it will tie into GOP primary voters’ anxieties about candidates from Massachusetts.  On the other hand, if Romney can show that he has a record of supporting candidates from both parties while also convincing people that he is now a serious conservative (no laughing, please), this might work to his benefit by combining his social conservative appeal with evidence of pragmatism.  It would, that is, were it not for the roughly 40% of Americans who have already determined they would never vote for a Mormon

These voters don’t need to know that Romney supported a Mormon Democrat in a congressional race nearly 15 years ago to view him with suspicion; they just need to know that he is a Mormon.  To the extent that the McCain people’s whispering about the donation emphasises Romney’s Mormon identity, it will have a greater effect on his candidacy than some meager donation he gave back in ‘92.  However, the purpose of the whispering does not seem to be aimed at his Mormonism in a Linkeresque or Christian conservative way.  Far worse than (obviously absurd) dangers of a national Mormon theocracy or adherence to a false religion in the eyes of the McCainiacs is a lack of lock-step allegiance to the Red Republicans.

Update: Something else about our Romneyite’s question just struck me as fairly silly.  Linker said some provocative and fairly insulting things about Mormonism, but he did not say that Mormons put their faith ahead of their loyalty to the country.  On the contrary, he identifies one of the principal threats from Mormonism to be their theologically-fortified Americanism.  As Linker would have it, this supposedly dictates that Mormon millennial expectations will drive Mormons to political action to hasten the return of Christ here in America.  As his critics have already pointed out, this is a fairly loopy argument in that it has very little to do with what actual Mormons are interested in doing.  Nonetheless, as wrong as Linker was about this and as bizarre as his complaint against Mormons was (they’re too patriotic!), he did not claim that they put their religion before their country.  The problem is supposed to be, rather, that their faith and their sense of patriotism are too closely intertwined.  The notion that anyone is accusing Mormons of putting religion ahead of country in a practical way is a product of misleading and annoying comparisons between old anti-Catholic tropes and present-day anti-Mormon opposition.  I swear, if I see one more mention of JFK… 

“It is not acceptable for Nevada to go before New Hampshire,” Gov. John Lynch told me in a phone interview yesterday.

He added that “it is possible that we will see additional movement” by other states trying to muscle ahead of New Hampshire. But that won’t be allowed either.

One person and one person alone has the authority to set the date of the New Hampshire primary: William M. Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state — or, as he is called in political circles, God.

Gardner will not allow Nevada to go first, no matter whether Nevada calls its contest a caucus, a primary or a ring-toss. ~Roger Simon, The Politico

This increasingly insane race to the front of the primary schedule will obviously serve well the candidates who can perform well in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Anyone hoping for some momentum from a Nevada win to propel him onward through the N.H. primary will apparently be out of luck.  This probably means that the major contenders will focus on these first two, traditionally significant races more than they would have and they will leave Nevada to the second-tier candidates.  This offers the illusion of making the race briefly appear to be more competitive, when what it actually does is to make Nevada as irrelevant as ever. 

Well, actually, my experience in foreign policy [bold mine-DL] is probably more diverse than most others in the field.  I’m somebody who has actually lived overseas, somebody who has studied overseas.  I majored in international relations.  But ultimately, foreign policy is really about having judgement and having a sense first and foremost of the strengths of America and the American people and being able to talk with them about what our values and ideals are and also having an understanding of what the world beyond our borders is like. ~Barack Obama on Good Morning America

Yes, he lived and studied overseas when he was a small child.  If he would like us to discount whatever negative associations people might make with his time in Indonesia, he might do well to not bring up his few years as a child in Indonesia as an example of his qualifications to be chief executive.  He majored in international relations?  That’s interesting to know (but it doesn’t inspire much confidence–Condi got a doctorate in international relations, and look how that worked out for us).  Does he really think that makes him more qualified than Bill Richardson or Joe Biden, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee?  Goodness, even Dennis Kucinich has been working on his Department of Peace proposals for longer than Obama has been in elective office, and led the opposition to the authorisation resolution in 2002 while Obama was still in Springfield.  Absurdly, the three Dems with the least practical, hands-on experience working on foreign policy are the three leaders of the pack: Clinton, Obama and Edwards.   

Ah, but Obama’s experience is ”diverse,” which is another way of saying, “I have no real experience in thinking about or working on policy, but I like to travel.”  Who seriously believes the man is ready to be President?      

Hugh Hewitt’s pro-”surge” pledge:

If the United States Senate passes a resolution, non-binding or otherwise, that criticizes the commitment of additional troops to Iraq that General Petraeus has asked for and that the president has pledged, and if the Senate does so after the testimony  of General Petraeus on January 23 that such a resolution will be an encouragement to the enemy, I will not contribute to any Republican senator who voted for the resolution.  Further, if any Republican senator who votes for such a resolution is a candidate for re-election in 2008, I will not contribute to the National Republican Senatorial Committee unless the Chairman of that Committee, Senator Ensign, commits in writing that none of the funds of the NRSC will go to support the re-election of any senator supporting the non-binding resolution.

The best part comes in the brief remarks following the pledge, where Hewitt writes:

GOP activists and donors built the GOP senate delegation, as well as the majority that was punted away [bold mine-DL].  They can disassemble it as well, and GOP support for a neoappeasement [bold mine-DL] resolution is exactly the way to start that process.

Neoappeasement?  Is that what they call appeasement in The Matrix?  But, hey, if you have neocons, and Santorum is Neochurchill, you have to have neoappeasement.  Does that make Brownback Neochamberlain? 

I thought I was the purist who expected unlikely things from people in government.  Faced with an incredibly difficult election for a considerable number (21, I believe, which is nine more than the Democrats have to hold) of contested Senate seats, many of them in “blue” or “purple” states, Hewitt has made it his goal to undermine any Senator running for re-election in ‘08 if he does the one thing likely to save his seat by voting against the ill-conceived “surge.” 

The majority was “punted away”?  Granted, the majority leadership did work overtime at accomplishing nothing of value and otherwise alienating parts of the country with the few things they did manage to bestir themselves to attempt (take that, Internet gamblers!), but the overwhelming reason why the majority was lost was because of continued mismanagement of a war that seemed to have lost any intelligible rationale.  The reflexive, full-throated support of people like Hewitt for the war ensured that the voters would associate (with good reason) the deteriorating conditions there with general Republican incompetence.  The majority was not “punted away”–war supporters in the coalition fumbled at their own five yard line through their increasingly inflexible, irrational defenses of a war that most Americans want to see brought to a close by ‘08.  The “surge” puts an exclamation point on all of this mismanagement.  Mr. Bush’s out-of-hand rejection of the ISG Report, whatever the flaws it possesses, was a giant, blinking neon sign that announced to the country, “Nevermind what you voted for, I’ll do whatever I damn well please.” 

He has made sure that most of the country thinks of this as a Republican war, pure and simple, and for the GOP this is nightmarish when the war is increasingly unpopular.  Some of the Senators Hewitt seeks to chastise are probably barely going to be able to hang on as it is (Norm Coleman, this means you), and now he is actively encouraging people to contribute to the defeat of his party because of some Senators’ opposition to one particularly bad policy.  Of course, he’s free to hold the GOP to whatever standard he wants, but he shouldn’t be surprised if most other Republicans look at him as if he’s crazy.  For the most part, conservatives who advocated for GOP defeat last year wanted the GOP to be chastened and to pay a price for its misrule and abandonment of principle.  Hewitt doesn’t just want the GOP chastened–he wants them to get slaughtered yet again and see their presence in the Senate reduced to a rump.  For what?  For the sake of Mr. Bush’s poorly conceived “surge”?  If the Senate GOP find themselves with only 39 or 40 seats (or fewer) come January 2009, the thanks will be due in part to screeching warmongers like Hewitt and their agitation to undermine incumbents in tough re-election fights.      

Update: Norm Coleman is apparently already buckling under pressure from the Hewitts out there.  In Senate FRC, he voted against the non-binding anti-”surge” resolution. That didn’t take long–Hewitt put up his pledge yesterday. Maybe Coleman was under pressure from the leadership to back the White House (maybe they threatened to withhold NRSC funding?), and Hewitt had nothing to do with it, but it’s interesting to note the timing of the threat and Coleman’s volte-face.

Second Update: VOA gives more information about why the non-binding resolution passed on a virtually party-line vote (Hagel joined with the majority):

Among the lawmakers who voted against the measure was the top Republican on the committee, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who said while he, too, opposes a U.S. troop increase in Iraq, he also opposes the resolution.

“It is unclear to me how passing a nonbinding resolution that the president has already said he will ignore will contribute to any improvement or modifications of our Iraq policy,” he said. 

Lugar says he fears passage of the resolution will make it more difficult for Congress to work with the president to influence his Iraq policy.

In other words, in order to have influence on Iraq policy it is necessary to not try to influence Iraq policy with any measure at all, no matter how symbolic.  That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I suppose it’s an explanation of sorts.  What it does show, however, is that there is a lot less support for the actual “surge” on the committee than the 12-9 FRC vote indicates.  It also means that Coleman has put himself in the ridiculous position of having to explain to his constituents that he opposed the “surge” before he failed to disapprove of it.  Minnesota DFL folks are going to beat him silly with this vote come next year.   

Third Update: Voinovich, a man not running for re-election in ‘08 but who is from what is becoming a very “blue” state, also expressed strong opposition to the “surge” while voting against the resolution.

With the White House wholly rejecting the “get the GOP out of Iraq” card, the president managed to do something many thought was nearly impossible: He strengthened the GOP’s ties to the war.

So what does this mean for 2008? Potential disaster. There are five people who are probably sweating more bullets about the GOP’s image problem than anyone else: The party’s three presidential front-runners (John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign of Nevada and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. ~Chuck Todd

In this environment, what is even stranger is that the Terrible Trio of presidential candidates are united in their support of the war and the “surge” and have tended to go out of their way to demonstrate their ueber-hawkishness to all.  In putting some distance between himself and the administration on the “surge,” Brownback might have bought himself a little bit more credibility as the most electable GOP nominee.  That is not to say that a Brownback ticket would win (it would, I suspect, still be too reminiscent of Bush’s style and policies to go anywhere), but that every other major alternative to Brownback has bound himself closely to Mr. Bush on Iraq (which, in Romney’s position as a former governor, is almost inexplicable).  If Chuck Todd is right (and he often is about these sorts of things), that association may very well doom the “frontrunners” to defeat in the primaries or present the GOP with another blowout defeat in the general.  The usual suspects’ vilification of Brownback as a weak, appeasing loser will be starting soon enough to help compensate for the huge problems the biggest Republican interventionist candidates face. 

At a time when religion and politics are increasingly intertwined, it would be an opportunity to remind all Americans why the wall between church and state has served the country well. ~David Campbell & J. Quin Monson

Yet again, the conventional arguments deployed in favour of Romney (tolerance!  separation of church and state!) are the very sorts of arguments that make the people Romney needs as supporters grind their teeth.  Many Christian conservatives believe, quite rightly, that the “wall of separation” does not exist, or at least they hold that it is not enshrined in the Constitution and has nothing to do with the fundamental law.  The prohibition against establishment in the First Amendment was, is, not the same as an absolute ”separation.”  If ”the wall” exists now, it is a function of some of the very judicial excesses that have contributed to the judicial tyranny these voters have resented and opposed for decades. 

If Romney were to make an appeal for his candidacy in the name of a “wall of separation,” it would just be one more reason why many Christian voters in the GOP primaries could not vote for him.  He may be currently be good on the issues that matter to them (his spotty record here hardly helps him), but their acceptance of his candidacy would then be predicated on an endorsement of certain ideas, such as “the wall,” that they firmly reject as later misreadings of the law and an arbitrary interpolation of Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists into constitutional rulings (if only the Court were always so interested in original intent!).  Now, with a Brownback in the race they have no need now to “settle” for Romney’s late-in-the-day discovery of moral truths that Brownback has been defending, to some degree, for ten years.

Just like the challenge for Kennedy in 1960 and for born-again Christian Jimmy Carter in 1976, Romney’s candidacy will provide fresh opportunity for the US to reassert that its democratic traditions are above religion and serve as a protector of religion. ~The Christian Science Monitor

This may be the source of one of Romney’s problems with Christian voters.  It requires them to accept that, as the CSM rather clumsily put it, ”democratic traditions are above religion.”  Put like that, you might be hard-pressed to find a lot of conservative Christians who would want to endorse such a message, since “religion” for them means Christianity and we can be fairly sure that for many of them democracy is not “above” or ahead of Christianity.  This ties into the other reasons why Romney’s Mormon identity will be a problem for him.  On the one hand, his candidacy runs up against the natural democratic impulse to elect people like ourselves who represent us and in whom we can recognise ourselves, and on the other hand his appeal must seek to transcend and so, to some degree, set aside religious identity, which runs the risk of appearing to trivialise the place of religion in public life.  Like so many other pols, he turns to the weasel word “values” to convey his basic agreement with Christian voters on social issues of importance to them, but unlike most of these other pols on the GOP side he does not have the built-in credibility with many conservative voters that goes with being from a Christian background.  He is hemmed in on every side and, as the polls indicate, he just can’t win.

I’m less sure that the backward-looking focus on the decisions of 2003 made much sense, or that the anti-Wall Street rhetoric plays well. Let me put it this way: This is not the speech that Rahm Emanuel or Chuck Schumer would have written. And while Webb is a more compelling figure than they are, they’re the better political strategists. ~Ramesh Ponnuru

On the contrary, the focus on 2003, to the extent that there was one, was a smart move.  The list of national security and military figures Sen. Webb rattled off, while familiar to pundits and bloggers, reintroduced the viewing public (if there was much of one) to the serious and credible arguments and predictions made–and ignored by the administration and its supporters–prior to the war.  The list summed up fairly quickly the most damning assessment that can be made about the GOP and Bush.  Webb was saying, “Iraq shows that the Republicans are not the party of responsible, intelligent foreign policy, and here are the witnesses.”  Important parts of the Webb response were aimed at saying, “The Republicans are reckless in foreign affairs, whereas we Democrats have better judgement.”  Speaking of the party as a whole, this is absurd, but that is why Webb being the one to give the response was a very wise move.  Had someone like an Emanuel or a Schumer given the response, the appeal would have been a harder sell, since Schumer voted for the authorisation of force (as did most ambitious, “national” Democrats) and Emanuel is a reliable DLC man when it comes to interventionist foreign policy.  Emanuel and Schumer are better political strategists, but mainly in the context of running election campaigns–their judgement on the politics of how to handle policy questions seems questionable at best.  Emanuel and Schumer represent the half-hearted defense approach: they concede the substance of a policy, such as the Iraq war, but quibble about the details.  Webb obviously represents a more stern, confrontational approach, and it is to have more vigorous opposition and confrontation with Mr. Bush when Congress believes him to be in the wrong that the public voted out the GOP majority.    

Webb makes the message of responsible Democratic foreign policy sound remotely plausible, because he actually did have better judgement than the administration in assessing the pitfalls of an invasion and was on record saying so in 2002.  But he notes his opposition almost in passing, emphasising the numerous credible critics of the then-proposed invasion.  The nods to his family’s tradition of military service was a straightforward way of saying: “My people have been fighting your wars because of our patriotism, but you keep misleading and mistreating us and now we’re mighty angry.”  It was a blunt way to do away with the standard “weak” Democrat image, but it will probably resonate with a lot of tired and frustrated military families.  It will definitely resonate with other tired and frustrated citizens who, as the Senator rightly noted, have patiently endured four years of mismanagement in this war.  It was also another way of saying, I think, “My Democratic Party is not the party of the wine-and-cheesers and the cultural radicals–it is a party for the patriotic, put-upon Middle American.”  

One might think that Webb’s knocks on Wall Street and the old Wall Street/Main Street dichotomy wouldn’t go over well, but then one would need to forget election results in places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania where record high Dow closes mean very little for a great many people.  The nods to Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt and the remarks about wages all tap into instinctive distrust of the moneyed interest in Democratic constituencies.  They also probably appeal to the American sense of fair play.  Perhaps some will say Webb is dressing up as a question of “fairness” things that have nothing to do with what is actually fair or right, but it seems almost certain that appealing to that sense of fair play will have a receptive audience.  As the passage of numerous minimum wage referenda around the nation shows, that element of Webb’s response will likely go over very well.   

Webb’s response was a solid performance for his first nationwide address.  It was hardly the rapture-inducing event that some Democrats seem to have made it out to be, but neither was it the awkward, anxious bumbling Republicans have portrayed it as being.  Obviously, he was following the teleprompter closely, which seems to be the natural hang-up for those starting out in making televised speeches of this kind, but compared to his less-than-enthralling stump performances last year it was a clear improvement and a success in laying out the basic Democratic theme, which seems to be, “We’re on your side.” 

Of course, I don’t think the Democrats, a few individuals like Webb excepted perhaps, are on “our” side at all, but that is the message they need to convey to continue to capitalise on the disenchantment and disgust with the GOP.

Update: Reihan has a short post on the “tribune” of the “new populists.”  I can think of someone who is probably very pleased by last night’s performance.

With this last bit, we not only see the accuracy of Clark’s remark, but, once again, the stunning hypocrisy of the anti-anti-Semitism brigades. It’s clear that McCain, just like Clark, sees American Jewish organizations as key players in the Iran-hawk movement in the United States, and also that he sees concern for Israeli security as motivating those groups. Nobody, however, is going to label McCain a Jew-hating conspiracy theorist — because, of course, McCain wants to help these groups push the United States into a military confrontation with Iran. Thus, McCain gets an award, and Clark gets called an anti-Semite. ~Matt Yglesias

I have earlier noted what Mr. Yglesias calls the “bizarre rules of the road in discussing America’s Israel policy,” according to which making the exact same assessment of a threat to Israel and observing that a confrontational policy suits the goals of Israeli and American pro-Israel hawks (in this case regarding Iran) will elicit two completely different reactions depending on whether or not the observer agrees with the hawks’ proposed course of confrontation.  Yglesias again:

If you’re offering commentary that’s supportive of America’s soi-disant “pro-Israel” forces, as Barone was, it’s considered perfectly acceptable to note, albeit elliptically, that said forces are influential in the Democratic Party in part because they contribute large sums of money to Democratic politicians who are willing to toe the line. If, by contrast, one observes this fact by way of criticizing the influence of “pro-Israel” forces, you’re denounced as an anti-Semite.  

Likewise, to observe in a negative or critical way that an attack on Iran is being done for the sake of Israel (or, in reality, maximalist hawkish definitions of Israeli security interests)–rather than, say, because of any legitimate American interest in doing so–is to invite derision and claims of conspiracy-mongering.  On the other hand, to call for action against Iran partly or fully for the sake of Israel (especially when in Israel), as Gov. Romney recently did, will normally earn you praise and plaudits for your “moral” leadership on a vital issue.  In the earlier post, I wrote:

Strangely, today many of the same people who denounced the paleoconservatives take it as almost a given that we should attack Iran because of the threat it poses to Israel.  They are not even embarrassed to say it quite openly: the reason why we should start a war with Iran is because Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel with special vehemence and fanaticism and has therefore gone beyond the pale.  Presumably, however, if one of the paleos were to observe that a forthcoming attack on Iran was being done for Israel’s benefit, we would be condemned again as anti-Semites.  (This is usually because we follow this identical observation with an argument for why it is not America’s fight and that our wars should be fought in our national interest, which is supposedly the wrong and immoral answer.). 

(I should add again that “for Israel’s benefit” in that post is not a claim that an American war with Iran actually is in the real security interests of Israel, but that the exceedingly hawkish ”pro-Israel” people who advocate for the war believe, wrongly as usual, that it is.)  However, when I wrote the above quote on 14 January, I had failed to notice that pro-Israel hawks who want confrontation with Iran do become embarrassed by critics of an attack on Iran bringing up certain truths about who it is that wants a war with Iran.  Again, the thinking seems to be: “we the hawks can say this, because we take the morally right policy position, and you cannot, because your position is not only immoral but must also be based in deepest prejudice.”  After all, what other reason would anyone have for wanting to keep America out of another needless, aggressive war in the Near East? 

The lesson is easy enough to learn: if you favour policies that lead to violent upheaval and conflict in the Near East as a way to supposedly secure Israel, you have special moral authority, and if you oppose these policies you are probably acting from the vilest of motives.  This is because, according to these rules, there cannot actually be honest, principled or sane disagreement about what serves the American national interest, nor even about what “pro-Israel” hawks deem to be security threats to us or Israel, just as there can be no disagreement about what should done about such threats.  It obviously damages the quality and integrity of foreign policy debate in this country when a hawkish faction in this country can define all of the terms, control all of the proceedings and exclude, by means of smears and intimidation, from the debate as inherently illegitimate any real opposing views. 

If Americans wish to avoid getting dragged into another unnecessary war, they can start by ignoring the professional corps of character assassins and smear artists who seek to politically kneecap patriots and Near East policy dissidents.  When the ADL or National Review, say, disgustingly accuses someone of such hateful prejudice, start by assuming that they are working overtime to discredit an opposing view whose arguments they cannot effectively rebut in a proper debate.  It is predictable that those with the weaker argument resort to ad hominem attacks.  What is surprising is how tolerant most people have become of this kind of fallacious argument.    

Since my cold keeps me from getting any sleep, while I wait for this dreadful TheraFlu to kick in (it tastes horrible, but does the trick) I will post here a few random items that may interest you all.

On the shameless self-promotion front, I have a review of Adrian Goldsworthy’s Caesar: Life of a Colossus in the latest TAC (1/29/07). 

On a random music note, I am currently listening to Sting’s impressive album of songs, Songs from the Labyrinth, written by the late 16th/early 17th century English composer, John Dowland.  Apparently, he even learned to play the lute to accompany the professional lutenist, Edin Karamazov, on one of the songs.  Dowland’s late medieval sound and lyrics, by turns melancholy and irreverent, are always beautiful.  Sting intersperses excerpts from a letter from Dowland to Robert Cecil, Lord Burleigh, in which Dowland, a confessing Catholic, was attempting to bring to the attention of the English court a plot against Elizabeth I while vowing his loyalty to England.  This has the interesting effect of recounting Dowland’s life as his corpus of work unfolds (the songs seem not to be in strictly chronological order).  By far, my favourite has to be Can she excuse my wrongs? (1597).  Here is the first stanza:

Can she excuse my wrongs with Virtue’s cloak?
Shall I call her good when she proves unkind?
Are those clear fire which vanish into smoke?
Must I praise the leaves where no fruit I find?

Los Angelino Eunomia readers, be mildly intrigued: the “Dark Lord of Paleoconservatism” will be visiting your city next week to speak on a matter historical, ecclesiastical and Armenian.  I am unsure whether I will have any time away from the scheduled events at the colloquium at UCLA, but if anyone is in the vicinity and would like to hear a talk on monotheletism (who wouldn’t want to hear a talk on monotheletism?) I imagine that you would be most welcome to attend.  Come and confirm that I am not, in fact, a disembodied brain who blogs via ”sheer Mental Power.” 

How could it be that Danish cartoons of Muhammad led to mass violent protests, while unspeakable violence by Muslims against Muslims in Iraq every day evokes about as much reaction in the Arab-Muslim world as the weather report? Where is the Muslim Martin Luther King? [bold mine-DL] Where is the “Million Muslim March” under the banner: “No Shiites, No Sunnis: We are all children of the Prophet Muhammad.” ~Thomas Friedman

There are so many moments when Friedman’s commentary causes pained grimaces or hysterical laughter that it is hard to know if this is the most foolish thing he has ever written.  Why do the Friedmans of the world write columns that pose what should be absurd rhetorical questions as if they were earnest inquiries after truth?  How could it be that the Danish cartoons provoked more outrage?  Well, for starters, the campaign against the cartoons was not spontaneous, it had been organised over the course of many months (adding three additional, far more insulting cartoons to the twelve originals) and the outrage, to the extent that it wasn’t entirely ginned up by demagogues, focused on what these people considered a grave insult to the man they regard as the most virtuous and noble in history.  Plus, it was an occasion to dictate Islamic norms to Westerners in a demonstration of their presumed superiority.  Their view of Muhammad is deeply wrong and their presumption to dictate our behaviour ludicrous, but that is why they responded more vehemently. 

Why would they respond with great outrage about a relative few Sunnis and Shias killing each other?  For both sides, they might respond by saying: what else is new?  In Shia historical memory, Sunnism is identified with the people who caused the death of ‘Ali and with Karbala and the martyrdom of his son, Husayn.  Husayn was literally a direct descendant of Muhammad through his mother, Fatima, and a legal heir through Muhammad’s adopted son.  Down across the centuries sayyids (those who are accepted as descended from Muhammad through the male line) have been typically respected in both sects because everyone acknowledged that not all Muslims were “children of Muhammad.”  Therefore, appealing to Muslims to stop killing one another on the basis of some mythical shared descent from Muhammad (even assuming that those engaged in the violence do not accuse members of the opposing sect through the process of takfir) would be to rub salt in the wound of Shias and uncomfortably remind the Sunnis of Shia claims to authority (which the appeal would probably also effectively endorse).  

Perhaps in his flight of fantasy in which a Muslim MLK gives his “I have a fatwa” speech of reconciliation and brotherhood, Friedman was using children metaphorically.  You have to hope that he was.  Even so, in using this metaphor he accidentally stumbles into one of the long-running causes of opposition between the sects, and thus unknowingly answers his own question about the relative indifference to the violence (since each side will undoubtedly lament its own dead, but not that those killing and being killed are fellow Muslims).  At the same time, he unwittingly invokes the remembered past of suffering and repression that feeds modern Shia attitudes (reinforced by more recent repression at the hands of Sunni authorities) in the unintended allusion to the violent deaths of the first two Imams at the hands of Sunnis.

A separate query: if many Western liberals insist that the Islamic world is in need of an Enlightenment of its own, and these same people consider such an Enlightenment vital to the future moderation of Islam (which assumes, I think erroneously, that Islam’s experience with such a phase would yield results similar to the European Enlightenment with respect to the eventual establishment of religious toleration, pluralism, etc.), and if these same people also believe that our Enlightenment was possible only in the wake of the destruction and disillusionment caused by the “long” century of the Religious Wars (1525-1648), should they not rather cynically welcome Sunni-Shia carnage as their hoped-for vehicle of introducing religious disenchantment into the Islamic world? 

I don’t say that these developments are desirable, nor do I think much of large parts of our Enlightenment (so I would hardly want to inflict such a thing on anyone else), but for the people, like Friedman, who prattle on about liberalisation and reform within Islam and dream of future fantastical Muslim MLKs, it seems to me that they ought to embrace the Muslim-on-Muslim bloodletting, to borrow from our famous “student of history” Secretary Rice, as necessary and the “birth pangs of a new Islamic world.”  That this would reveal the full madness of the drive to “fix” the Islamic world according to our lights, which Westerners will never accomplish, is probably why they hold back from the very logical conclusion of their arguments for liberalisation and reform.  That it would demonstrate the ultimate futility of all attempts at introducing or encouraging reform and liberalising elements would weigh heavily on the minds of the Friedmans, assuming they gave much thought to their false premises.

TOM Cruise is the new “Christ” of Scientology, according to leaders of the cult-like religion.

The Mission: Impossible star has been told he has been “chosen” to spread the word of his faith throughout the world.

And leader David Miscavige believes that in future, Cruise, 44, will be worshipped like Jesus for his work to raise awareness of the religion. ~The Sun

Presumably, the Scientologists will charge people for the privilege of asking for Tom’s forgiveness.  Just when you thought that he couldn’t sink any lower…

Religious zealotry has been responsible for killing more people than any other thing. ~Chuck Hagel

Taken on its own, there are few sillier statements.  If we can attribute the deaths of the French Revolution to liberalism, and I think we can, right there liberalism in France accounts for more deaths in the 18th century than religious conflict throughout the world in the same century.  Liberalism would seem to fare better in the 19th  For every extremely violent and extremely rare T’ai-P’ing Rebellion critics of religion can cite, defenders could point to ideologically-driven state-induced famines caused by collectivisation or nationalist genocides on the other.  For every Thirty Years’ War on one side of the ledger, defenders of religion could invoke the secular and nationalist Thirty Years’ War of 1914-1945.  In sheer numbers, ”religious zealotry” at its worst usually cannot compete with the power and passion of revolutionary ideologies.  (The death tolls from the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648 and the T’ai-P’ing Rebellion are as high as they are because of the famine and pestilence that resulted from constant, large-scale campaigning.)  The point is not to cheer on religious zealotry as such, nor is it my purpose to ignore the atrocities of zealots, but rather I am trying to recognise that there are far more destructive and virulent ideas out there that have done and will continue to do more damage.  This is not to dismiss the damage that religious zealotry can do, but to keep in perspective that there are worse things–and things that are responsible for killing more people–than that. 

I am unfortunately reminded here of Dawkins, who rattled off a list of all the violence that would never have happened without religion, all the while failing to notice that most of the killing done throughout history was done for entirely different reasons.  Predictably, Sullivan approves of this bakvas

Republican Mitt Romney called for economic sanctions against Iran “at least as severe” as those imposed on South Africa during its apartheid era, in an effort to isolate the Central Asian nation and convince it to give up its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.

Addressing a security conference in Israel, the former Massachusetts governor and potential 2008 presidential contender also urged states to divest in Iran, to seek the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on genocide charges, while also making it clear that pursuing nuclear weapons “can also be a source of peril” for Iran. ~Boston.com (AP)

So, Gov. Romney went to Israel and gave a wild, Santorumesque speech about Iran.  Leave aside the sabre-rattling, the crazy talk about divestment, which will never happen in the countries where there are investors in Iranian firms, and the far-fetched talk of genocide charges against Ahmadinejad.  The sanctions proposal is probably the nuttiest of all in its way, because, even once they are established established, they are almost certain not to work.  First, extreme isolation through international sanctions rarely achieves the policy goal that supporters seek, and second it gives the targeted government an immense boost in popularity as the population inevitably rallies around its political leadership in the face of global hostility.  Sanctions and calls for sanctions are classic examples of how governments engage in what are effectively symbolic declarations of displeasure.  These declarations have real-world consequences, almost none of them good for anyone.  In case there was any doubt, Romney has aligned himself with a reckless, confrontational sort of foreign policy that, at first glance, sounds every bit as unhinged and dangerous as anything Mr. Bush has uttered. 

Nothing better aids obedience to the targeted regime and a whipping up of nationalist outrage than the use of heavy-handed tactics to compel a government to change one of its internal policies.  This is even more the case when a broad majority of Iranians believes, correctly, that Iran has the legally-recognised right to develop nuclear energy technology.  You would think experience with Iraq and Yugoslavia sanctions would have taught us that these tactics help shore up governments that are, in fact, much weaker than anyone imagines at the time.  By providing the regime with a foreign threat and the reality of a crisis, sanctions cause dissidents to become silent of their own accord and they cause dissidents to resent the idiotic foreigners who have just made their position impossible.   At the same time, sanctions will tend to inflict terrible costs on the civilian population, whose resulting suffering simply reinforces the view that they should support the policy of their government.  Nothing is more likely to ensure that Tehran proceeds with the development of a nuclear weapon than the use of a blunt instrument like sanctions.  International isolation helps to secure the grip of authoritarian and dictatorial governments.  It plays into the hands of the people whom Gov. Romney most wants to oppose.  This tells me that his foreign policy judgement is extremely poor and that his foreign policy views are informed mainly by the understanding that he needs to appear more belligerent and pro-Israel than the next guy to secure his position in the primaries. 

No doubt his biggest fans think that his irresponsible speech is great.  These are probably also the same people who think that Santorum showed “leadership” by comparing himself to Churchill and warning us about the danger from Venezuela, among other dire threats.  I would ask the Romneyites this: is it your position that such provocative statements about U.S. policy in the Near East should be made by former governors/presidential candidates?  Do you really think that is wise?     

The Armenian leadership openly sided with Turkey’s enemies, demanded a state on Ottoman land and formed anti-Ottoman militias. Many Turks were killed by these Armenian groups.

Turkey fears an official apology for the Armenian deaths would trigger claims on its land or on seized Armenian assets. Turks cannot believe the sincerity of foreign parliaments which, usually ill-informed about the Turkish case, give in to Armenian diaspora lobbying for genocide declarations. (One such bill looks likely to pass the U.S. Congress in April.) Politics often seems to trump history. [bold mine-DL] Would the French Parliament have made it a crime last year to deny a “genocide” by the Turks if an unrelated desire to keep Turkey out of the European Union had not been prevalent? ~Hugh Pope

The first statement is a shocking overgeneralisation.  Mr. Pope has evidently written several books on Turkish history, so he ought to know better than to say broad and sweeping things about “the Armenian leadership.”  Much of the flower of Ottoman Armenian political and intellectual leadership in Constantinople (or Konstantiniye as it was still called at the time) was wiped out in the days and weeks following the mass arrests of Armenian journalists, professionals, clergy, scholars and parliamentarians on April 24, 1915 (April 24 is now the day when the genocide is now commemorated).  This leadership had remained quite loyal to the Ottoman Empire, maintaining the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal” millet in contrast with the Orthodox Christian Slavs and Greeks who had been breaking away from the empire for decades.  For their loyalty, they were rewarded with death, and the deaths of these leading figures gave the signal to the Turkish and Kurdish irregulars in eastern Anatolia to begin the massacres and forced deportation of Armenians from Van, Erzerum and Cilicia, among other locations.  The Young Turk government during WWI coordinated with these irregulars to achieve maximum destruction of the Armenians in Anatolia.  After the Ottoman defeat, there were even some trials of some of those who had participated in the slaughter.  The slaughter was unfortunately not an entirely new thing, since there had been widespread massacres  of Armenians in 1894-96 in the previous generation and no foreign war on which they could later be conveniently blamed.  What was different starting in 1915 was the scale and organisation of the killing and the official backing of the government.   

There were some Armenian nationalists in eastern Anatolia who sided with the Russians in the hopes of establishing an independent Armenian republic (a goal which was briefly realised at war’s end before it was swallowed up by the Soviets and became Armenia SSR), but to refer to these people as “the Armenian leadership” or to treat the problem as if it were one of general subversion of the empire by the entire Armenian community in time of war when it was not the case is unworthy of someone who claims the role of historian.  Indeed, Mr. Pope’s column reads very much like something out of the Turkish government’s own propaganda, including the scare quotes around the word genocide and the outrageous statement that it is somehow the Turkish government that has history, rather than politics, on its side.  It is fairly obvious to most thoughtful people, whether Armenian, Turk or some other nationality, that the massacres did happen and did constitute the first modern genocide.  It has been the political repression of the evidence and speech about this inside Turkey that has been the only real source of doubt about the genocide.  It has been this persistent denial imposed by the Turkish government that has continued to frustrate and embitter the Armenian Diaspora. 

As the late Mr. Dink had tried to argue, preoccupation with Turkish acknowledgement of the genocide has become for many Diasporans a consuming passion, even an unhealthy one.  However, I can hardly blame them for wanting official acknowledgement that this did happen and was a deliberately orchestrated state-sanctioned attempt to annihilate an entire people.  I don’t know why exactly Mr. Pope feels obliged to carry water for Ankara and the argument that “lots of people died–hey, there was a war on!”, especially when the latter is typically the refuge of the Holocaust-denier, but he lends his name to a bad cause and does not do his duty as an historian by lending credibility to the Turkish government’s self-serving justifications of a horrendous crime.  Politics often seems to trump history all right, at least as far as Mr. Pope’s misleading description of the genocide goes.  

For those interested in what a more serious historian has to say about the matter, Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is reputed to be an excellent study.  (I regret that I have not yet had a chance to read it, but I plan to do so this year.)  It confirms, as one would expect, that the genocide was “a deliberate, centralized program of state-sponsored extermination.”  This is the work of a Turkish scholar who is keenly aware of the anxieties of Turks about acknowledging this crime, but who is also concerned to tell the truth about these terrible events.  That is the sort of historian we should be heeding.   

America faces an existential threat. ~Liz Cheney

From Iraqis?  I think not.  The people who face an “existential threat” in Iraq are Iraqis–and the threat is posed to them by other Iraqis.  War supporters can have it one of two ways: they can harp on the fact that this is a fairly limited, relatively low-casualty war (quick, cite numbers from Shiloh and Iwo Jima!), which implies that the United States are not in grave danger of annihilation from the Jaysh al-Mahdi et al. or they can claim that this is a war for our very existence, in which case their years-long defense of inadequate Bush administration planning and preparation for a war of such magnitude is shown to be something of a fraud.  The administration does not wage this as if it were a war for our very existence, which means that they are either criminally negligent or they are exaggerating the nature of the threat when they and their supporters say these things. 

Will the red, white and black tricolour of Iraqi nationalism be flying over the Capitol in the foreseeable future if we withdraw from Iraq?  Obviously not.  To talk about the Iraq war in terms of an “existential threat” is ludicrous. 

We are fighting the war on terrorism with allies across the globe, leaders such as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. Brave activists are also standing with us, fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the empowerment of women. They risk their lives every day to defeat the forces of terrorism.

I had thought we were done with this senseless talk about fighting “terrorism.”  “We” do not fight “terrorism,” nor do we fight the “forces of terrorism.”  “We” fight jihadis.  Arguably, if more resources were available for Afghanistan and Waziristan operations, we would be focusing our attention on the real “central front,” to the extent that one can speak of global counterinsurgency in terms of “fronts,” which is anachronistic and tied to conventional warfare of a previous generation.  If we actually had reliable allies in Pakistan, they would have persisted in their campaign against the Pakistani Taliban.  In fact, they had their heads handed to them and have ceased military operations against the Taliban, to which still far too many members of the Pakistani security services and government have remained tied.  In Pakistan we face the same absurd situation that we do in Iraq: we rely heavily on the local government to pursue our goals, not noticing that the local government is deeply compromised by elements of the very enemy forces we are trying to eradicate.  We stake much on the trustworthiness of Musharraf, author of the Kargil War, inveterate enemy of our real ally, India, and perpetual supporter of Kashmiri separatist violence, and on that of Maliki, who has repeatedly shown that his loyalties lie with his master Moqtada.  In short, with “allies” like these we scarcely need enemies.  To recognise the futility of fighting alongside an “ally” like Maliki is not a danger to our broader security interests, but is fundamental to protecting them.  If the alternative to withdrawal is to throw more Americans into the fire of Iraq to make it appear as if we are doing something different, withdrawal is the only sane and decent option as far as American interests are concerned.

But in the liberal mind, to concentrate on the fertility of any one group is to flirt with Nuremberg laws. ~Christopher Hitchens

And in the neocon mind, which is the liberal mind on meth, to focus on the fertility of your own people with natalist policies is to prove your fascism.  Furthermore, it is almost axiomatic in most fascism scholarship that Italian and German pro-natal policies in the interwar period are proof of fascism’s “regressive” and “reactionary” character (because there is the underlying assumption that progressive, civilised, liberal people are not interested in policies aimed at increasing their population).  All of these views are, to put it mildly, very wrong.

Soon, the Christianists will be recruiting ayatollahs to give them back-up in their war on Western freedom. ~Sullivan

Yes, we here in the Christianists Local, No. 38, have a meeting over at the mosque later today.  The agenda?  Sure enough: “How to destroy Western freedom.”  Sullivan sure is sharp. 

Presumably the “Christianists” include Rev. Hagee, who declared the bombing of Lebanon a “miracle of God.”  The ayatollahs–and the Christians and Muslims of Lebanon getting bombed by the “miraculous” IAF–will probably not view kindly this kind of “alliance.”  Herein lies the biggest reason why D’Souza’s idea of such an alliance between conservatives here and Muslims around the world is obviously absurd: almost to a man, the people whom Sullivan loathes and denounces as “Christianists” have an irremediably negative view of Islam, for both religious and political reasons, and would be the last ones to entertain the idiocy of making a pact with Islamic fundamentalists.  These are people who are conservative, to the extent that they are, because they are Christian and because they take Christianity to be the True Faith.  For all the reasons that Sullivan hates these people, almost all could never closely cooperate with Muslims or most other non-Christians to the degree that D’Souza is talking about.  I suspect they would sooner go to a gay discotheque than make such a deal with Muslims, which is one way to say that they would never make such a deal. 

Sullivan writes as if there were a natural unity among all those whom he calls, often erroneously, “fundamentalists,” when it has to be one of the basic traits of any actual fundamentalist to view fundamentalists from another religion as being among the worst people in the world.  Sullivan’s fear of a Christianist-ayatollah connection is the product of what some of us like to call “paranoia,” where the subject believes that contradictory and opposed forces in the world are all working together and out to get him because, under the surface, they are all really on the same side in their loathing of, in this case, the subject’s sexual habits. 

From the perspective of a real believer, for someone to embrace religious error is bad enough, but to embrace it in such a thoroughgoing and intense way strikes the believer as the height of insanity.  In some sense, a Christian believer will assume that the fundamentalists from another religion might often be the “best” representatives of their religion in that they are holding most strictly to their religion’s teachings, and he may even understand that a Hindu or Islamic fundamentalist, let’s say, is only doing what he believes his religious duty mandates.  That does not really excuse what those fundamentalists do–for example, what they do to Christians and Christian churches–but makes their actions the logical outcome of their religion, which further confirms the believer’s negative view of that religion. 

Such a believer might even have some passing respect for the commitment and devotion of such a person, before coming back to reality and realising that religious commitment and devotion are only virtuous if they are aimed at the Good, which false religions are capable of doing only imperfectly.  He will probably take the other religion’s fundamentalists at their word that they represent the pure and true form of their religion, which will only reconfirm in his mind the view that this religion is profoundly wrong.  This is why some Christians, even a few conservative Christians, are willing to cheer on Muslim apostates and “liberal Muslims” who reject both “traditional” and “radical” forms of their religion, even though they would respond in horror if the same sort of anti-traditional and subversive arguments were made by members of their own religion.   

According to Dean Barnett, D’Souza states his thesis for The Enemy at Home thus:

I am saying that the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.

At first this sounds remotely plausible to a conservative ear.  After all, these same people are responsible for the “volcano of anger” of Middle Americans that is directed at these institutions.  It might stand to reason that Muslims, with their even stricter and more restrictive codes of behaviour, would react even more angrily against these same things.  There is also probably enough truth to it for most people to be willing to hear D’Souza out as he attempts to prove his thesis. 

But why does D’Souza write this book, and why does he write it now?  D’Souza is a well-known flack for the war in Iraq.   In The Enemy at Home, according to Tom’s review, D’Souza attempts to stick an apologia for Bush’s Near East policy into his culture war/alliance with Muslims book.  As Tom notes, the combination doesn’t really work as a single book.  However, the apologia was essential, because I believe that it is to save the reputation of interventionism that D’Souza cooked up this overblown claim about the cultural left’s responsibility for 9/11.  Whatever responsibility for anti-American sentiment the cultural left does bear, it is indeed a huge leap to claim that this lead to 9/11.  9/11 was the hideous work of people who hated America because of the presence of our soldiers in Saudi Arabia and, according to their public claims, our sanctions on Iraq and our support for Israel.  U.S. foreign policy was a major cause of, and in some large degree did provoke, the attacks of 9/11.  Those who support interventionist foreign policy generally and especially those who support its most aggressive, neoconservative form in the invasion of Iraq have a great deal at stake in ensuring that conservatives do not become disillusioned with this failed kind of foreign policy.  It is necessary to distract them with their elemental resentments against cultural liberalism and civilisational decline and, if at all possible, tie in support for the current brand of reckless foreign policy with the defense of our culture and morals.  From what I understand of it, D’Souza’s clunky tripartite book actually seems to be Joseph Bottum’s “new fusionism” in action: a foreign policy guided by “moral” purpose hitched to a cultural conservatism at home.  But this is an expanded “new fusionism” in which intervention in the Islamic world is somehow integrally tied to forming an anti-leftist alliance with Muslims–we are no longer invading other countries simply to topple “evil regimes” but to somehow also counteract the spread of cultural liberalism that allegedly is the real cause of anti-American violence.  It seems likely that the main reason why D’Souza concocts this unwieldy argument in the first place is that the Iraq war is failing and public support even on the right is fading, so, for the sake of the survival of interventionism, it is vital to shift the blame for 9/11 from the interventionism he and others like him support to the broadly acceptable target of the cultural left.  If Barnett’s comments are any guide, the mainstreamers aren’t buying what he’s selling. 

When a conservative’s book is lambasted in The New York Times book review section, as Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home was today, I can usually take it for granted that the review, if hostile, will probably be ridiculous and virtually self-refuting.  Alan Wolfe has not disappointed me.  In a review entitled, none too subtly, “None (but Me) Dare Call It Treason,” he excoriates D’Souza’s book as a “national disgrace” and calls the author ”childish.”  Tom Piatak had a very different reading of the “disgrace”:

Dinesh D’Souza’s The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 is really three separate books jammed together in one package: a persuasive though hardly original account of the Culture War in America; an engaging rendition of the Left’s hostility toward traditional cultures around the world and its attempt to break down the morality undergirding those cultures; and an unconvincing attempt to link the first two books to the third, a defense of the Bush administration’s policies in the Middle East. Because of this odd juxtaposition, there is much of interest in D’Souza’s book, though its parts are definitely greater than the whole.  

However, my bad reaction to the NYT review does not mean that I am a great D’Souza fan, and I have already written a little about Tom Piatak’s TAC review of the same book.  My impression of the book has not much improved with the reading of a second review, even though Wolfe’s tone and argument make me want to be sympathetic with D’Souza in spite of myself. 

Let me start by acknowledging that I have not read D’Souza’s book, nor will I be rushing out to buy it.  I am working from what these two reviews tell me.  Based on those reviews, D’Souza seems to say some things that are true (it is true, for example, that Bin Laden has not launched any attacks on Israel and also true that few Americans are terribly distressed at the tens of thousands of dead Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan), but also unfortunately elaborates his “grand strategy” for a sort of international culture war in alliance with “traditional Muslims” that inevitably summons to mind the phrase “ecumenical jihad.”  This is a very, very bad idea, but the proposal itself deserves some consideration so that we can understand fully just how bad of an idea it is. 

Some of D’Souza’s irony is clearly lost on Mr. Wolfe.  For instance, he does not seem to grasp what I take to be the point behind D’Souza’s remark about polygamy and Western sexual freedom.  From Wolfe’s review:

Polygamy exists under Islamic law, but the sexual freedom produced by feminism in this country is, at least for men, “even better than polygamy.”

Perhaps D’Souza is simply being nihilistic here and saying: “They mistreat their women one way, and in certain respects we mistreat them even more in another, so why get on your high horse about their treatment of women?”  On the other hand, he might very well be saying (though why he is saying this, I have no idea, so ripped from context is this excerpt), “A sane society would oppose polygamy on the grounds that it is a disgrace and travesty of the marital bond, which should be a monogamous and faithful union, but we are a deeply sick society that does so much to undermine and wreck the institution of marriage and we mistreat our women in some ways that are more degrading in the name of “sexual freedom,” but still have the gall to attack traditional societies for the practice of polygamy.”  In other words, I think D’Souza probably accepts that polygamy is wrong–I am going to guess that he is not really engaged in cultural relativism here–but recognises that polygamy is relatively better, as a matter of social stability and public morality, than rampant mass fornication dressed up as “freedom.”  Does Mr. Wolfe understand the difference between these two positions?  Does he care about figuring out what D’Souza means?  I assume he does not.  He has the polemical bit between his teeth and he is racing down the track.

Ecumenical jihad is initially, but only very briefly, an appealing concept.  Its core assumption, taken to its logical conclusion, is that a conservative would and should prefer “traditional Muslims” to, say, Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris.  In a global struggle against the cultural leftists, Islam thus supposedly becomes the ally.  This is a sort of Brzezinskian-Reaganite approach to a global cultural conservatism: support the mujahideen against the godless.  The core problem with this idea, besides its complete impracticability, the damage it would do to our civilisation and the scorn with which it would be met on the Muslim side, is that it presupposes a common ground and a consensus on basic moral truths that don’t actually exist. 

Strict conservatives in the West quite rightly have a very dim view of the sexual revolution.  The trouble is that most “traditional Muslims” think, for example, that women appearing in public without accompaniment from a male relative is a form of absolutely unacceptable sexual revolution and indecency and that it can be punishable by violence.  I assume that most conservatives, including many social conservatives, would view this as extreme and excessive.  D’Souza’s alliance rests on the assumption that this is what most of us would like to establish in this country if only we could somehow manage it.  I can believe that many social conservatives want a restored public morality and decency that would impose many, many strictures on people that have since fallen by the wayside without confusing what they want with the codes of Islamic fundamentalists.   

D’Souza’s alliance only makes sense in the very limited, binary analysis of for/against.  “Oh, Muslims are also against homosexuality–let’s join together with them to fight this abomination!”  Except that their idea of the fight is to stone or otherwise execute sexual deviants.  That does almost put them in the Old Testament tradition, or at least the punishment bears close resemblance to Leviticus, but then even the blackest of black reactionaries in the West are unlikely to bring back Levitical punishments that have been in abeyance for centuries and are unlikely to sympathise very much with those still inflicting such punishments.   

As a matter of foreign policy, I am convinced that what Muslims do in their own countries is generally their business, which is why I find D’Souza’s weird combination of Islam and Imperialism so bizarre.  In his view, we should go out of our way to make concessions to traditional Muslim sensibilities all over the place, but then also dictate the political and economic future of their countries through interventionist foreign policy that is sure to anger, humiliate and outrage the very same constituency D’Souza seems intent on satisfying. 

But if D’Souza is incoherent, Wolfe is laughably silly.  Here is Wolfe in high dudgeon:

Unlike President Bush, who once said he could not understand how anyone could hate America, D’Souza knows why Islamic radicals attack us. “Painful though it may be to admit,” he admits, “some of what the critics or even enemies say about America and the West … may be true.” Susan Sontag never said we brought Sept. 11 on ourselves. Dinesh D’Souza does say it.

Leave aside the strange contrast between Mr. Bush’s understanding–which is so widely respected as deep and penetrating!–and D’Souza’s.  This is one of those cases where D’Souza says, “Some of what our critics say may be true” and Wolfe cries, “Anti-American!” faster than a neocon columnist on a deadline.  From the excerpt given here, D’Souza does not say that we brought 9/11 on ourselves.  It says that some of the criticisms of America and the West are not entirely without merit.  That is a perfectly defensible statement, and it happens to be true.  More might be said in this vein, but from what Wolfe tells us D’Souza did not say it.

Another excerpt that proves the book to be a disgrace?  Wolfe recounts:

And the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement that the West has a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust, while “pooh-poohed by Western commentators,” was “undoubtedly accurate.” 

Here D’Souza has invited trouble for himself by even bringing up Ahmadinejad and failing to engage in a ritual denunciation.  But, according to this excerpt, what did he say was “undoubtedly accurate”?  Ahmadinejad’s claim that there was a taboo against questioning the existence of the Holocaust.  That is “undoubtedly accurate.”  There is a taboo against this.  Wolfe presumably finds D’Souza’s comment about this offensive precisely because there is such a strong taboo that even mentioning that there is a taboo is frowned upon–it’s simply understood and left at that.  Most people in the West happen to think this is a well-founded taboo, since the Holocaust (i.e., the mass killing of Jews in lands under Nazi German authority) did happen. 

One might query (Wolfe does not) why D’Souza mentions this, since Ahmadinejad obviously does not make this observation out of a deep sensitivity about the problems of imposing what are effectively political limitations on historical inquiry.  He uses it as a way to show that there are things “we” in the West consider unquestionable and inviolable and, so he would probably claim, thus our commitment to freedom of speech is a fraud.  However, while I might say that locking people up for making statements about the Holocaust contrary to the generally accepted historical record is stupid and tyrannical, just as I consider the French law outlawing Armenian genocide denial to be foolish and counterproductive (not least since it allows members of the Turkish establishment to pose as some sort of defenders of academic or political freedom, when that is exactly what they are not), Ahmadinejad uses this inconsistency on the part of Westerners to advance the claims of Islam over and against us and to insist that we cannot violate their taboos in what we do because we are supposedly hypocrites when it comes to protecting freedom of speech.  Many European countries are hypocrites about this, but that remains irrelevant.  If Europeans lifted all hate-speech and Holocaust-denial laws tomorrow, Ahmadinejad and other Muslims with him would not change a bit.  D’Souza exposes himself rather stupidly here to the obvious attacks that he had to know would come and doesn’t really make much of point, as far as I can see from this excerpt, except to say, ”Ahmadinejad occasionally says things that are factually true.”  This is not very interesting.  It is a sad commentary on the pathetic, super-politicised state of Iran commentary that to say something as mild and inoffensive as this merits special derision from an agent of the Grey Lady. 

D’Souza’s book evidently proposes a fool’s errand of allying with Islam as a path towards the defense of our own culture.  Wolfe does make a couple of the same points I have already made before (e.g., the distinction between traditional and radical Muslims is largely illusory), but largely fails to focus on the central conceptual flaw of D’Souza’s proposal: you cannot drag the Islamic world kicking and screaming towards secular modernity while at the same time hoping that the “traditional” forces within Islam will strengthen or somehow aid in the conservative fight against the cultural left.  This is an idea even more crazy and potentially disastrous than the tired cliche of the fine “family values” of Latin American immigrants who are coming fortify conservatism in America and become loyal GOP voters.  That is why people should throw down D’Souza’s book and move away, and not because he has accused subversives of being just what they are.

I have been slow in commenting on the outrageous murder of Hrant Dink, and for that I must apologise.  It was a terrible crime, and unfortunately only too representative of the state of modern Turkey.  The murder is the unfortunately all-too-logical outcome of the absurd and dreadful charges brought against Mr. Dink by the Turkish state for his alleged “insult” to “Turkishness.”  For some background, I cite from the Armeniapedia entry on Mr. Dink:

Dink wrote a series of articles in which he called on diaspora Armenians to stop focusing on the Turks and focus instead on the welfare of Armenia, said Karin Karakaþlý, an editor at Agos newspaper. Karakaþlý said Dink told Armenians their enmity toward the Turks “has a poisoning effect in your blood.” She said the court took the article out of context, wrongly assuming it meant that Turkish blood is poison.

On October 7, 2005 Hrant Dink was convicted under article 301 of the penal code of insulting Turkishness, charges that Dink said he would fight, adding that he would leave the country if they were not overturned. He was convicted and given a six-month suspended sentence, which means he will not be forced to serve prison time unless he repeats the offense. Dink has lived in Turkey all his life and was shown on television in tears as he denied the charges and vowed to fight them.

“I’m living together with Turks in this country,” Dink told The Associated Press. “And I’m in complete solidarity with them. I don’t think I could live with an identity of having insulted them in this country.”

The court said Dink’s article “was not an expression of opinion with the aim of criticizing but was intended to be insulting and offensive.”

Dink, speaking in Turkish, said the sentence was an attempt to silence him.

The assassin, who has now confessed to his crime, admitted to being motivated by the alleged “insult” to Turks and did silence him.  In a way slightly similar to the fate of Pim Fortuyn, Mr. Dink was officially vilified by the government authorities and made an object of hate in his own country based on false and obviously politically motivated charges.  Within two years of the official hate campaign against the man, he had been shot dead by some fanatic who actually took seriously the government’s claims made in service of its cynical control over its citizens’ statements.  The persistent official denial of the Armenian genocide instituted and maintained by the Turkish state has now contributed to a new murder of an Armenian dissident.  Like another April 24, a leading Turkish-Armenian intellectual has died at the hands of a Turkish nationalist thug.  If Turkey were at all serious about becoming a liberal or genuinely Westernised country, its authorities would either scrap or cease to enforce the dreadful section of the law that precipitated this awful deed.

PM Erdogan’s rush to denounce the crime is as predictable as it is cynical.  He laments that the assassination was an attack on Turkish freedom and democracy, yet the hateful charges against Mr. Dink would never have been brought and would never have existed to spur the assassin on to his horrible deed had there actually been real freedom of speech in Turkey.  His government and the entire apparatus of genocide denial in Turkey are effectively guilty as accomplices in this crime.  If anyone needed another good reason why Turkey should be kept out of the European Union, this is it.      

In Ledeen’s fantastical world, where Iran is bent on conquering Kenya and where he never supported the invasion of Iraq, there is another new equally credible ”revelation”: the murdered journalist Hrant Dink was Kurdish.  That would be very interesting to know, except that it is completely untrue. 

Hrant Dink was a Turkish Armenian and editor of the Turkish and Armenian language newspaper Agos, as this entry from Armeniapedia clearly shows.  His murder is a despicable outrage, but one plainly aimed at a prominent representative of the Armenian minority in Turkey because of his efforts to draw attention to the truth of the Armenian genocide.  (It is a bitter irony that Mr. Dink was known to take Diasporan Armenians to task for their preoccupation with the Turks’ guilt, whence came the “poison in the blood” line that later caused him such grief with the authorities and, now, has contributed to the motive of his assassin.)  It is fairly glaringly obvious that the late Mr. Dink was Armenian.  Not only does his first name shout it from the rooftops, and not only has every news story reporting on his death stated this basic fact numerous times, but the charge of “insulting Turkishness” of which he was convicted and his activism on behalf of awareness about the Armenian genocide were obvious indications of his background.  There are some non-Armenians in Turkey who also speak out about the genocide, but there are few Kurds among them (not least since a great many Kurds were involved in committing the genocide and most Kurds today are not eager to revisit that part of their history).  In any case, Hrant Dink was not Kurdish.  Indeed, it might be considered fairly insulting to the victims of the genocide to impose Kurdish identity on a man killed for his work in trying to gain recognition of the Armenian genocide.  Imagine calling a murdered Jewish Holocaust activist a Lithuanian or German and guess what the reaction would be. 

It is just one more sorry example of Ledeen speaking about something in the Near East without knowing the most basic information about the subject.  Pathetic. 

Some guy invented South Park Republicans, so I can surely make up something called 24 conservatives.  Lorie Byrd (via Clark Stooksbury) gives us a window into the (confused) mind of the 24-con:

The Fox hit drama 24, featuring the superhero terrorist-fighter, Jack Bauer, is not a consistently reliable champion of conservative policies, but it sure does provide Americans with some politically incorrect terrorist-thumping entertainment. In spite of a “war for oil” story line one season that almost drove me away from the show, and some similar occasional bows to the PC police, 24 remains one place conservatives can find scenarios no one else will depict.

Because there are not many other shows on network television brave enough to show terrorists as anything other than white supremacist types or to feature a hero who routinely inflicts torture on suspected terrorists when innocent lives are at risk, it remains very popular with many conservatives. Even the four hour season premiere of 24, which has been harshly criticized by some for being overly sympathetic to ACLU positions by depicting an administration violating the civil liberties of Americans, had plenty for most conservatives to love.

The first admission that 24 doesn’t really sit very well with Ms. Byrd’s understanding of conservatism comes from the very column that begins by claiming that 24 and American Idol are signs of consolation for the despairing conservative–behold, pop culture is headed our way!  (More likely, both are signs of our impending self-destruction.)  It is an odd way for her to persuade the skeptics of the plausibility of this claim when her very first argument allows as to how her entire thesis is basically wrong.  

You can be confident that whenever someone writes one of these columns about pop culture to find the “conservative angle” on something, it is usually done by including as pro-conservative any element of the plot that might be considered reasonably decent.  “The characters in this show demonstrate great dedication to their jobs…working for a behemoth federal bureaucracy…which proves that 24 embodies a conservative work ethic.  And Chloe O’Brien is no feminazi!” Ms. Byrd did not write that, but she might as well have.  That is roughly the level at which these sorts of columns operate.       

You know the drill: find an attractive or admirable trait in some new movie or cultural phenomenon, label it as yours and then say, “Hey, this pop culture icon endorses my view of the world!”  It’s amusing, and some columnists make half their year’s earnings writing stuff like this, but it is ultimately as pointless as trying to prove, inter alia, that the early episodes of season 3 in Galactica were a massive antiwar protest.  It is a concession that the only cultural production that people consume on a large scale is not created by conservatives, which causes us, the conservatives, to scrounge, hyena-like, for what scraps of cultural meat we can get from the carcasses left to rot in the sun.  I await with a certain dread the column that tries to prove Johnny Drama is a populist champion of Middle America, yet I know that it, or something very much like it, is coming. 

[For those who haven’t watched seasons 1-5 of 24, multiple spoilers await below.]

Actually, if I were a hard-liner, hegemonist or a nationalist, I would have a lot of problems with 24’s foreign policy implications.  A ”war for oil” storyline would be the least of my worries.  That is almost secondary to what was really shockingly anti-interventionist about season 5.  Seasons 3 and 4 all but explicitly point to interventionist foreign policy and the warfare state as the causes of anti-American terrorism.  Jack Bauer never cares why the terrorists do what they do; he is simply interested in stopping them.  But after a while the audience might begin to piece a few things together: maybe intervention does lead to terrorism….Even more offensive to contemporary “conservative” tastes in the Bush Era, season 5 shows the scenario by which the government–up to and including the President–can be corrupted from within by the influence of private interests and how the government might even conceivably cynically use terrorists and/or terrorist threats as tools to advance policies deemed to be in ”the national interest” according to the standards of a very few people.  Season 2’s fake terrorist connection to three Middle Eastern governments, pushed by the same hard-core faction that smuggled in the nuke, is surpassed in anti-Republican boldness by season 5’s concocted WMDs justification for intervention in…central Asia.  The insane lengths to which the people backing these hard-line politics will go seem only too plausible to critics of the real-life equivalents of these policies.  That is why it stuns me that 24 has become a popular conservative hit, when the show routinely shows the very sort of people and policies many conservatives tend to cheer on these days as variously traitors, collaborators with terrorists, mildly insane or the tools of larger conspiracies.  However, because the show also has Jack blowing away Muslim and other terrorist henchmen and wielding his knife ever so precisely around Walt Cummings’ eye as a way to extract information, it is supposedly conservative because it is ”politically incorrect” (how it is politically incorrect to effectively endorse the current practice of the government vis-a-vis detainees escapes me, but perhaps I have missed my latest reprogramming session).   

If we fast-forward through the tiresome premises of season 1, when the great villains in the whole world of international terrorism were…Serbs, we see a pattern emerging in every other storyline.  The goals of “Second Wave,” an Islamic fundamentalist group, in season 2 are vague, but their hostility to the United States presumably does not come from nowhere.  Nonetheless, even though season 2 spends more time than any other 24 season focused on foreign policy and the retaliatory strike for the detonation of the nuke aimed at three nations supposedly backing Second Wave’s attack, actual policy debate takes a back seat.  We are treated instead to the more visceral imagery of the head of the NSA explaining that he allowed the nuke to be smuggled into the country as a way to force the Palmer administration to take a harder line with foreign threats–in short, to give Palmer’s foreign policy “some balls.”  Sadly, such is the state of modern conservatism that I suspect the NSA director’s character will appear to be a brave and patriotic idealist wrongfully persecuted by “realists” and, no doubt, anti-Semites.

Season 3 sees a very nasty terrorist mastermind (played brilliantly by Paul Blackthorne, who has to be cast as a Bond villain sooner or later) who intends to force the U.S. to “retreat within its borders” and is willing to use a heinous virus on the general population to compel government capitulation to his demands.  However, 24 is short on exposition and very much focused on the action: each time a terrorist has the opportunity to justify what he is doing, he usually resorts to the refrain, “You wouldn’t understand.” 

The most explicit anti-interventionist strain comes in season 4, when Marwan, the mastermind of a string of terrorist attacks, records a statement explaining, somewhat vaguely, that all of this has been in retaliation for interventionist policies.  Perhaps because these statements are put in the mouths of terrorists, some might argue that this is an attempt to discredit anti-interventionist arguments in the West, but each time the show presents no rebuttal and no counter-argument.  Because the show is focused on counter-terrorism at home, everything that happens takes on the appearance of self-defense, pure and simple, and the narrative and logic of the show repeatedly tell us that, regardless of motive or justification, the villains are out to kill innocent people whom Bauer is trying to protect.  This has the virtue of being true, though it obscures some rather important details.  Bauer represents a sort of last line of defense against the hornets official policy stirs up elsewhere in the world.  As such, no one is going to find fault with Bauer or his efforts to protect Americans–since that is one of the basic functions of the government–but this kind of storytelling also insulates the audience from having to worry about why each season brings such insistent attempts to bring mass death to American cities.  The audience doesn’t care and, what is equally likely, it wouldn’t understand.  That, unfortunately, is what 24 conservatism seems to embody: belligerence without understanding.     

New Mexico’s Gov. Bill Richardson today joined in the increasingly absurd 2008 presidential race.  How many candidates does that make it now?  Counting both sides, I count at least seventeen declared or presumably soon-to-declare candidates (e.g., Giuliani, Hagel) so far (you already forgot about Tommy Thompson, didn’t you?)Before the spring is finished, we could hit twenty, and that’s not counting third party candidates.  If 1992 gave us the Seven Dwarves, 2008 will be presenting us, per Sam Brownback’s corny Oz reference, with the political equivalent of Munchkinland.   

Here is the article with a link to his online announcement.  I have no love for Bill at all, and most recently voted against his re-election, but one of the things that leaped out at me in his announcement was how incredibly detailed and policy-focused it was.  No grandiose, ridiculous claims about ending all deaths from cancer in 10 years for Gov. Richardson–he was talking the dreary-but-effective talk of pragmatism, competence and citing a record as a centrist Democratic governor.  Brownback can talk a good game about protecting life in Darfur, but that hardly beats Richardson, who actually reached a temporary cease-fire in Darfur.  In any contest to show who is more effective at taking care of irrelevant Sudanese problems, Richardson will win.  Therein may lie a bigger problem: Americans dislike a globetrotting foreign policy-centered President as much as they dislike a bumbling buffoon who can’t tell the difference between the Balkans and the Baltic. 

Unlike HRC, Richardson had something to say in his announcement.  He spared us the vacuous, Freudian, ”I want to hear what you think” approach to politics and told us what he had done (sort of) and what he intended to do (more or less).  Except perhaps for Obama and Clinton, I can hardly imagine a worse person for the office of President of the United States currently in the race right now than Bill Richardson, but there is a boatload of far worse candidates.  There are fourteen or fifteen of them, in fact, whom Richardson beats on his substantive policy remarks, since he has been virtually the only one to make any substantive policy remarks of any kind in his presidential announcement. 

Where Obama and Clinton have both gone out of their way to be as vague as possible, Richardson was stunningly specific.  He has already shown why the very few governors in the ‘08 race, including at the moment just Romney, Vilsack, Thompson and Huckabee in addition to Bill, will be the most successful candidates: they have experience, a record and policy ideas in place of empty bloviating, “national conversations” and saccharine sentimentality about American goodness, which seem to be the stock in trade of our candidates from the Senate. 

Leave aside that most of his foreign policy successes were glorified photo-ops for which he simply showed up, and let’s not forget the disgrace of his tenure at Energy when LANL lost, as it tends to do, top secret material and suffered from rampant security lapses and went through the big espionage scandal of the late ’90s.  As Sen. Byrd famously said of Richardson’s career at the time: “It’s gone.”  (And George Weigel thinks Condi had it tough!)  Byrd was apparently overestimating the impact rank incompetence would have on his electoral fortunes in a state like New Mexico.  We shall see whether voters in other states are as easily suckered by Bill’s glad-handing, world-travelling ways.

To answer Peter’s important question (sorry, I mean, truly important question), I would have to say that my bet’s on Romney.  The old BSG-Mormon connection can’t have just been a fluke, can it? 

To Beck, that trip to hell does not stop with our politicians. It is societal.

“Too many people are concerned about their party, too many people are concerned about their labor union, and too many people are concerned about their own business,” he says. “You see it with your own children in school, where you see a child that has been misbehaving and they’re called on the carpet, and the parent immediately says, ‘Not my child!’ It is because it’s no longer about the collective; it’s about ‘me.’ ~Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Well, actually, the abdication of parental responsibility and the cult of indulging spoiled children are entirely separate from being principally concerned with your party, your labour union or your business.  The attitude behind abandoning responsibility and forsaking discipline for children is ultimately one of accepting dependency on someone or something else that will provide the constraints and discipline so sorely lacking in your own world.  That attitude is self-serving, which is not quite the same as minding your own business.  The former would very much like others to do things for him without his having to do anything for them.  Such self-indulgence and individualism are rather products of a breakdown of strong attachments to the numerous institutions of local life, be it the company, the union, the church, etc.  There is no sense of broader social responsibility because there is actually very little attachment to the institutions that form the web of relationships that maintain social solidarity.  The problem is not that too many people are too concerned with “their party” or “their labour union,” but that more and more people do not attach themselves to anything beyond their own self-interest.  They do this because they perceive that they have no need for these institutions, and so are indifferent to their conservation and have little interest in their renewal.  What these institutions may have once provided or still do provide, such individualists are only too glad to receive from the state or a megacorp, which in turn reinforces the degrading dependency of these people on the state or the megacorp or both.  The surest road to a real and destructive collectivism is this preoccupation with self-interest combined with Beck’s hostility to the attachments and loyalties people have at a more immediate, personal level.  

Concern with one’s own business is normally associated with the necessary responsibility to attend to that business successfully.   Normal people are concerned mainly with the things most closely related to them, and those are the things that should have priority in their lives.  If everyone were preoccupied with someone else’s business, someone else’s labour union and someone else’s party, we would indeed have a “collective,” but it would be of a stifling, oppressive sort.  To some extent, we are already plagued by the need to meddle and to fix the other fellow’s problems rather than tending to our own affairs.  This disorder expresses itself in different forms in our society.  There are the people who feel compelled to “do something” about Terri Schiavo, there are the Save Darfur folks, and there are legions and legions of people with an activist frame of mind just like them.  There is a drive at the heart of it that may well be that old freethinkers’ impulse to make everyone else just as “free” as you are.  This concern for others is so obsessive and overwhelming that it obliterates all concern for restraint and limits.

Tehran proposed ending support for Lebanese and Palestinian militant groups and helping to stabilise Iraq following the US-led invasion.

Offers, including making its nuclear programme more transparent, were conditional on the US ending hostility.

But Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office rejected the plan, the official said.

The offers came in a letter, seen by Newsnight, which was unsigned but which the US state department apparently believed to have been approved by the highest authorities.

In return for its concessions, Tehran asked Washington to end its hostility, to end sanctions, and to disband the Iranian rebel group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and repatriate its members.

————

One of the then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aides told the BBC the state department was keen on the plan - but was over-ruled.

“We thought it was a very propitious moment to do that,” Lawrence Wilkerson told Newsnight.

“But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the Vice-President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil’… reasserted itself.”

Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now. ~BBC News

Via The Plank

Apparently, the “old mantra” means “we don’t talk to evil even if the other side wants to give us almost everything we have wanted them to give us for 25 years.”  If confirmed, this decision would mark the most irredeemably stupid move this administration has made in foreign relations since the invasion of Iraq, and the competition for that dubious honour is quite stiff.

By the by, wouldn’t this report indicate that the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation to negotiate with Iran is potentially quite beneficial?  Granted, after three and a half years of dithering and needless confrontation, Tehran may no longer be interested in making this deal.  It would probably be worth finding out whether they were still interested.  That could possibly alleviate a number of problems.  Take Hizbullah, for example.  It would not disappear and would remain a significant force in Lebanese politics because of its indigenous base of support, but without millions in funding and continued Iranian supply of things such as advanced anti-tank technology, used to such powerful effect last summer, Hizbullah’s relative military strength would decline and its grip on Lebanon might weaken slightly.  That is the sort of thing anti-Iranian neocons and hegemonists are supposed to want.  Yet one of their champions rejected the offer that might have severed Hizbullah’s Iranian supply line. 

If Washington began to engage Syria as well, the other main source of Hizbullah support might dry up or could at least become weaker.  The administration willing to make an effort at rapprochement with both countries stands a decent chance of coming away with at least one, and possibly two, foreign policy coups.  Unfortunately, the current administration hasn’t the brains, vision or courage to attempt any such thing–indeed, if this story is true, they have already shown that they have lacked these things all along.   

In his enthusiasm for belittling Obama (something of which I can heartily approve), Mark Steyn declares in his characteristically slapdash fashion:

The madrassah stuff was supposedly leaked to Insight Magazine by some oppo-research heavies on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s team. Which if true suggests that Hillary’s losing her touch. It’s certainly the case that a foreign education doesn’t always assist in electoral politics: John Kerry didn’t play up the Swiss finishing school angle. But look at it from a Democratic primary voter’s point of view, the kind who drives around with those ‘’CO-EXIST'’ bumper stickers made up of the cross and the Star of David and the Islamic crescent and the peace sign. Your whole world view is based on the belief that deep down we’d all rub along just fine and this neocon fever about Islam is just a lot of banana oil to keep the American people in a state of fear and paranoia. What would more resoundingly confirm that view than if the nicest, most non-bitter, nonpartisan guy in politics turns out to have graduated from the Sword of the Infidel Slayer grade school in Jakarta?

Before Steyn can make this into the usual narrative of stupid liberal/virtuous and wise neocon, let’s not forget that neocons have been rather late to the game of being concerned about Islam, being old hands at Islamic fundamentalist-empowerment in the Balkans, the Caucasus and every other corner of the globe so long as it was deemed useful to advance their idea of U.S. hegemony and superiority over other great powers and their clients.  No one was more shocked–or at least no one expressed greater shock–post-9/11 that Muslims around the world had not been more grateful for all the times America had come to the aid of Muslim causes in different parts of the world than neocon pundits.  The litany was always the same: “Afghanistan! Somalia! Bosnia! Kosovo!  You people owe us.  We are on your side–why have you betrayed us?”  Having cheered on Clinton’s dealmaking with Iranian and Saudi-backed jihadis in Bosnia, they were over the moon when NATO came to the aid of the church-burning, monastery-destroying Islamic terrorists of the KLA. 

Imagine their surprise when an entirely different set of Muslims from other parts of the world were not grateful that the government and, in a supporting role, the neocons had helped to crush a Christian country for the sake of their co-religionists.  The neocon lament, which has since become an insane rage against the more specifically Iraqi ingrates, was profound, as if to cry, “Didn’t you Muslims pay attention?  We helped your guys in virtually every street fight in the ’80s and ’90s, and still you have bad feelings towards us!  How many more Christians do you want us to bomb?  Don’t worry, we’ll be glad to oblige.”  Their militant overreaction to Islamic terror is the overcompensation for years of encouraging and supporting the very same kinds of people against those, mostly Orthodox Christians by heritage, whom they despised even more.  Yet their every policy preference seems designed to perpetuate on the one hand the myth of their “moral clarity” in facing down Islamic fundamentalism (about which they were fairly indifferent in the ’90s) while also maintaining the remarkable fiction–embodied in official administration positions–that there are “moderates” and “reformers” within Islam whom we must support. 

I have written before on neocon Islamophilia, which is a phrase that seems bizarre at first until you recognise how and why neocons oppose jihadis–they do not oppose them because they are jihadis as such, much less because they are Muslims and heirs to nearly a millennium and a half of hostility to our civilisation, but because they are like fascists and totalitarians.  Hence the idiotic “Islamofascist” tag.  If only the Islamic world could know the benefits of Enlightenment universalism and the religious moderation that would supposedly flow from it, they tell us, all would be well.  On the political front, since they have determined jihadis to be adherents of a kind of fascism, how else should we combat that fascism except according to the established script of war, occupation and political “re-education” of entire countries as liberal democracies?  Having completely misunderstood the problem, they endorse remedies that have no chance of working, but which are likely to empower jihadis and the like through the spread of violent conflict and the insane enfranchisement of jihadi voting blocs.  

Back to Steyn.  Steyn’s claim about the prevalence of sappy Democratic multiculti sentiments sounds good.  It reinforces myths that Democrats like to believe about themselves: that they are the party of tolerance, diversity and heroic indifference to the more appalling aspects of foreign cultures.  These are the same myths that Republicans like to perpetuate about them to make all of them appear as foolish and ridiculous as their most looney members.  However, the myths aren’t entirely true. 

If we believe the latest Diageo/Hotline poll, which tallied American attitudes towards four religions, it is true that Republicans (11% fav/58% unfav) and independents (14% fav/41% unfav) tend to have much lower opinions of Islam than do Democrats, but it is still a relative thing.  For every Democrat who views Islam favourably, there is another Democrat who views it unfavourably (27% vs. 27%).  The remainder is made up of all those Democratic voters too ignorant to know what to make of Islam one way or the other.  Add together the people who don’t know any better with those who already have a dim view of Islam, and you have well over a majority of Democrats.  If Clinton can show those with a low opinion of Islam that Obama was raised as a Muslim, and if she can convince the ignorant 47% that he deceived the public or omitted these details from his biography, she might very possibly cripple his campaign before it starts. 

If the leak to Insight was indeed the Clinton team’s work, it was not at all the sloppy or foolish thing Steyn makes it out to be.  It was a great potential momentum-killing revelation with the added advantage that the leak to the Washington Times‘ magazine protects HRC from a left-wing backlash.  If they did indeed use a conservative publication to reveal the information, Clinton’s team has managed to throw the blog left into an uproar at right-wing dirty tricks while making her appear to be a victim of still other right-wing dirty tricks that aim to sully her name with supposed prejudice that would theoretically hurt her with her primary voters. 

The funny thing about this blogger outrage on Clinton’s behalf is that an appeal to what silly people will inevitably call “Islamophobia” will not backfire with that many Democratic primary voters.  It may actually cause other voters to turn away from Obama when they might have otherwise supported him.  As the de facto front-runner with the most money and best organisation as of right now, all Clinton needs to do is prevent Obama from gaining momentum through this year.  Throwing up a hurdle like this–which will do amazingly bad things to Obama’s prospects as an “electable” candidate for the general–creates real problems for Obama.  It may not even harm him that much right now, but it will linger in the background until he comes under real media scrutiny and will then reappear with a vengeance.   

Perhaps I am too critical, but from the moment Clinton’s online announcement of her exploratory committee began I was filled with a kind of nameless dread that alternated with fits of laughter when she said things like, “We all have to be part of the solution.”  There is nothing very funny about that line, but hearing her say it as a very-nearly-official presidential candidate made me chuckle. 

Evidently, the word “basic” tested well with the focus groups, because she uses it about five times in three consecutive sentences.  Ditto for “middle” and “mid”–she grew up with “Midwestern values in the middle of America.”  No crazy coastal liberal is she!  It has been so long since I have heard the woman speak publicly that I had forgotten how tiresome and condescending she can be.  It’s probably not the case that she’s trying to be condescending–she doesn’t know how to say things any other way. 

On a purely stylistic note, I would add that the strange zoom-ins and wobbly camera effect are unnerving and make those inclined to distrust her to come away with the feeling that they are being somehow manipulated.  If she is going to be “chatting” with us online several more times in the coming days, she needs to find someone who uses the cameras to her advantage.  If she could also find a way to have a completely different voice, that wouldn’t hurt, either.

Our favourite Romneyites at Evangelicals for Mitt are predictably not impressed by their natural foe, Sam Brownback, who threatens Romney’s drive to win the support of Christian and social conservatives.  Understandably, they are hitting him on his appallingly bad immigration position (one area where Romney actually does better than old Sam), and have argued his undoubtedly popular and sane opposition to the “surge” is proof of his poor leadership and lack of conservative bona fides (as if perpetuating an aggressive war not in the national interest is a mark of conservatism). 

Whatever else I may think of Brownback, it is Brownback who is taking something of a lead here and carving out a distinct position while almost all of the other GOP candidates are running and attaching themselves to Mr. Bush’s policy.  On foreign policy, Gov. Romney has really been a mere echo of Mr. Bush.  Clearly, the public is interested in something else.  On foreign policy, Bush Redux or Bush Lite will not be acceptable in the general election.  While I consider many of Sen. Brownback’s views on foreign policy to be horrifying, he at least has coherent views that he has articulated and can expound on at considerable length.  His interest in intervening in Darfur strikes me as fairly wild-eyed and dangerous, but he has demonstrated leadership on this and other issues.  If the test is one of leadership on foreign policy questions, Gov. Romney’s grandstanding over Muhammad Khatami’s visit is a poor alternative.  

Can the choice for conservatives really be between a flip-flopping, universal health-care-bill-signing Massachusetts governor who wants to persist in the folly of the Iraq war and Amnesty Sam, champion of Darfur and scourge of cancer?  Surely there is someone else.  Hunter?  Tancredo?  Paul? 

From Hotline, Sam Brownback’s announcement:

“I am declaring today my candidacy for President of the United States.

“Ours is a great nation and I make one pledge to you, to use our greatness for goodness.

“We are a great nation because our greatness is built on the foundation of fundamental goodness. If ever we lose our goodness, we will surely lose our greatness. Our purposes, from the time of our nation’s founding, have always been bigger than we are. They must be if we are to fulfill our destiny.

“But destinies are built on daily achievements. Inch by inch, step by step, we press on to our higher calling. Today I wish to state what I believe those next steps are, for our nation and for our people.

“Two hundred years ago this year, a little known British Parliamentarian by the name of William Wilberforce finally achieved success after a lifetime of effort to end the slave trade in the British Empire. A committed Christian who believed his faith should be a force for good in Britain and around the world, Wilberforce had two great passions: ending the slave trade and renewing the culture. Although his goals appeared impossibly lofty, both were achieved.

“He used Britain’s greatness for goodness.

“Our mandate today has a similar feel. If William Wilberforce were alive today, I believe he would be passionately fighting for the dignity of every human life everywhere, without regard to race, wealth, or status. He would also feel compelled to take up the vital cause of renewing the family and the culture.

“These are our fights today.

“We must fight for the downtrodden, the voiceless and the powerless. We must fight for freedom and justice. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of our heritage.

“But, our land needs healing.

“Our people need hope.

“Our world needs help.

“We need reconciliation. Lincoln properly observed that, ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ We are divided and need healing.

“We need to rebuild our families. We need stronger families! We need people belonging and committed! By doing so, we will reduce poverty, strengthen our nation and increase hope.

“We need to support the foundational institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman for life. We should support marriage, not tax it. It’s wrong to take away welfare benefits just because someone gets married. Marriage remains the best place to raise children–not the only place, but the best.

“We must stop wasteful spending that steals a families’ income and then insults them by throwing their money away on pork-barrel projects.

“And we need more opportunities–not more taxes. I’ve never voted for a tax increase, and I certainly will never sign one!

“But that’s not enough. We need a different income tax system altogether. This one, the Internal Revenue Code, should be taken behind the barn and killed with a dull axe.

“I propose the creation of an alternative flat tax, which lets the people choose which system works for them.

“We need a social security system in which all Americans are given a choice in how to prepare for their retirement; a choice they do not presently have. No one should be required to leave the current system, and everyone must be guaranteed their current level of benefits. Every American should be given this freedom.

“We are a large nation. Let’s start embracing American-sized goals that lift us up and pull us together!

“Let’s put our energies into conquering the number one fear in America: the fear of getting cancer. We can end deaths by cancer in ten years. [bold mine-DL] The last two years have seen a decrease in deaths by cancer. It’s time to put this killer to death. With our intense effort, we can make it a chronic–rather than a terminal–illness. What a gift to humanity!

We need high-quality, affordable health care for everyone. [bold mine-DL] Here, let me step back for a moment. I am a conservative. A conservative that believes in addressing problems, not ignoring them. We must address our health care problems with market-based solutions, not government-run health care. We can, and we must. This topic requires our urgent attention.

“We must be energy self-reliant in North America in the next fifteen years–at the same time we need to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. This is possible using our ingenuity, resources, and determination.

“Also, we need judges who want to be judges, not legislators.

“And for goodness sakes, the last thing we need in America is to take God out of our public lives and institutions! We need to embrace our nation’s motto ‘In God We Trust,’ not be ashamed of it. Search the record of history. To walk away from the almighty is to embrace decline for a nation. To embrace him leads to renewal, for individuals and for nations.

“Something most people feel deeply in their hearts is the need for a culture of life–a culture that doesn’t allow the strong to exploit the weak–a culture of compassion instead of a culture of convenience. Life is beautiful. We all know this. Let’s start following our hearts and work to protect all innocent human life.

“We are a nation at war. I just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops–the finest, most courageous people our nation has to offer–are fighting for the cause of liberty in places that have never known her. It is a long fight. We will win. We cannot lose our will to win! We must win to redeem our troops’ sacrifice. Let us resolve to have a bipartisan strategy for the war. We need unity here to win over there. This is not the time for partisanship on any side. Lives–and our future–are at stake.

“We will achieve these goals, not through government action, but by tapping into our innate goodness as a society and working together. This is how America has always achieved great goals.

“At the end of the day, it comes back to the basics: faith, family, and freedom. America is great because she is good. That goodness is not based in Washington, or New York, or even Topeka. It is based in the hearts of the American people. This is a goodness whose author is the divine. A goodness that doesn’t let us rest until our neighbor is at peace. A goodness that feels the chains of another rub on our own skin. A goodness from God that demands our vigilant action.

“How much better we will be as we seek to live the great commandment to love God and one another.

“Yes, we are great and that is a humbling thing, for to whom much is given, much is required.

“Let us, in this generation, continue our destiny of greatness by focusing on the heart, a heart full of good. That’s what I’ll seek to do everyday.

“So it is with sincere humility and a determination to do good that I declare my candidacy for President of the United States.

“God bless you all, and may God continue to bless this great nation!

In an unsurprising display of executive branch idolatry, George Weigel, the man who learned to stop worrying and love aggressive war, declares that Secretary Rice–this incompetent, tiresome appointee–should have shown contempt to the elected representatives of the nation.  Thus Weigel:

BY AUGUST 1950, Secretary of State Dean Acheson had taken all he could stand from those congressional critics whom he privately dismissed as “the primitives.” So when Nebraska Sen. Kenneth Wherry leaned across a hearing table and wagged a finger, Acheson blew up. He leaped to his feet and demanded that Wherry not “shake his dirty finger in my face.” Wherry said he’d do as he pleased. “By God, you won’t,” Acheson hollered — and prepared to land a haymaker until restrained by State Department legal counsel Adrian Fisher, a former college football player.

I couldn’t help thinking of that scene from Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas’ multi-biography, “The Wise Men,” last week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is, one suspects, far too polite to respond Acheson-style to the indignities she absorbed during her first appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But would anyone have blamed her if, in response to Chuck Hagel’s ambitions or Barbara Boxer’s personal nastiness, she had said something like this:

“Look, senators, there are real consequences to our ‘ending the war’ in Iraq, as the new speaker of the House has put it — rather glibly, if I may say. Those consequences include a bloodbath, chaos throughout the Mideast and perhaps the emergence of an apocalyptic maniac in Tehran as the regional hegemonist. Do you think that would play well in Omaha? Or Sacramento? I don’t. In any event, I’ve got important things to do, and they don’t include sitting here acting like my mother’s pin cushion. I’ll be back when you’re ready to get serious. Impeach me if you like. They pay a lot better at Stanford.”

Actually, one of the things expected of a minister in government is to suffer the scrutiny of the legislative branch.  It is one of the principal mechanisms allowed to the legislative to check and supervise the actions of the executive.  Autocrats and their hangers-on find this obnoxious, as well they might, but republicans and constitutionalists respect this as an integral and necessary functioning of the government and a way to ensure some minimal accountability for policy decisions.  It is one of the few practical methods the representatives of the people in Congress assembled have these days to hold to the fire the feet of these pompous would-be lords who believe they have received some holy mandate to do what they please with the people’s government.  Oversight of this kind is one of those small triumphs over an arbitrary executive won over decades and centuries of struggle with the claims of the Crown that our ancestors wisely chose to incorporate into the management of affairs in our government. 

Was Sen. Boxer’s observation correct that Secretary Rice makes her bold, declarative statements about the war in Iraq without any personal stake in the consequences?  Yes.  Was that the most relevant thing to point out during the hearing?  Obviously not.  Yet it was not irrelevant, nor was it “nasty.”  The whinging of jingoes about how rudely and roughly they are being treated now that they can no longer intimidate, shout down and otherwise insult their opposition is simply pathetic.   Sen. Boxer’s remark–which, as usual given the idiocy of the media, was made into some sort of cat-fight over the true meaning of feminism–was an observation that those who are most blithe about committing American soldiers to war happen to be those whose families bear no risk of suffering from the evils of that war.  This statement may not be a terribly important one to make (since most people in this country are in no danger of seeing their friends and family in danger because of the Iraq war, which does not invalidate their opinions), but it is true and perfectly legitimate.

There are many more things that I can and probably will say later about Mr. Weigel’s depressing, embarrassing op-ed, but I have no time this afternoon.

You know that Romney has relatively high unfavourable numbers (35% at last check), but how does Mormonism itself do?  Alerted to the problem by Friday’s HotlineTV,  I was intrigued to find that the numbers are just as staggeringly bad for Mormonism nationwide as the earlier Rasmussen poll results indicated.  According to the new Diageo/Hotline poll from this month (question 10b), Mormonism has an unfav rating of 39% (17% strongly unfav) compared to a fav rating of 27%.  The main good news for Mormons?  34% had either heard of Mormonism but couldn’t rate it either way, or hadn’t heard of it or didn’t know enough to say, and it receives a barely more favourable response from the general public than Islam (18/41).   

Nonetheless, among Republicans, Mormonism is viewed somewhat or ”strongly” unfavourably by 48% (strongly unfav is 24%).  Mormonism receives the best response from independents (31/26) and fairly negative numbers among Democrats (27/38).  The infamous Rasmussen poll from last year showed that only 19% of likely voters could identify Mitt Romney as the Mormon in the race–how much worse will his unfavourables get when more of these voters learn of his religious affiliation?

Other interesting religious items from the poll: 24% of Republicans have an unfavourable opinion of Catholicism (which is higher than Judaism’s unfav rating of 16% among the same people), which may help explain why there has still never been a Catholic Republican presidential nominee (and one reason why there probably will not be one for a while yet). 

We also need to come together as a nation to protect all life, no matter how old or where in the world that life is, whether in Darfur [bold mine-DL] or in the heartland of America or in Iraq, or whether elderly or in the womb. ~Sam Brownback, online presidential announcement

He also vows to “stop” cancer.  Good luck on that one.  He then says that he’s not running “to change the world,” just to “change America,” which will nonetheless change the world.  That’s very reassuring.

Brownback is officially in

For Brownback, the attraction to Wilberforce and abolitionism was only natural: The senator grew up near Osawatomie, Kan., the town from which John Brown launched murderous attacks on pro-slavery men a century and a half ago, earning the pre–Harper’s Ferry nickname “Osawatomie Brown.” When Brownback learned that forms of slavery were still being practiced in Sudan and elsewhere, it outraged him. “I couldn’t believe this was going on,” he says. “It was just wrong, and we needed to do something about it.” ~John Miller

There many things that are wrong in the world.  There is a word to describe someone who thinks that all those problems are our problems that “we need” to “do something” about and that our government exists to right the wrongs of the world.  That word is not conservative.

Today, Brownback is all about the love — not just for the Clintons, but for everyone. As he mulls a long-shot bid for the White House in 2008, he is trying to reinvent the politics of compassionate conservatism for the post-Bush era. “The term ‘compassionate conservatism’ is great, but it’s basically a marketing term,” he says. “I think it’s been overused in rhetoric and underutilized in public policy. I want to make it a reality.” His idea is to place love and compassion for human life at the center of everything, from the traditional issues of abortion, cloning, and euthanasia to the less traditional ones of immigration, pharmaceutical patents, and North Korea. ~John Miller

In other words, he wants bleeding heart conservatism’s heart to really bleed, and not just bleed for show.  Can someone please explain to me why this is appealing?

Nonetheless, if you can somehow get past this–and that’s not easy to do when it is the core of his campaign–it is worth remembering that he was was the one who took the lead in shutting down the Miers nomination.  Brownback is a puzzle this way: his general outlook on, say, foreign policy is Wilsonian and drippy enough to give you night terrors, but then he manages to come to the right position on the “surge” and negotiating with Syria and Iran anyway.  It’s almost as if he sometimes make the right decisions in spite of his worldview.  That’s hardly a compelling reason to support him.  Perhaps when Ross returns from his self-imposed blog exile, he can give us some compelling reasons. 

“…There were three elections held. Those were a powerful demonstration of what no one is able to deny, even those who now want to turn away and give up on Iraq. Which is that the majority of the Iraqi people want a better life for themselves and their families. The majority is not involved in sectarian violence and clearly not involved in terrorism.” ~Kimberley Strassel

Everyone wants a better life for himself and his family.  That’s the most vapid thing anyone can say.  It’s right up there with “‘Everyone wants to be free” or “everyone wants to be happy.”  Well, that’s nice, but how many people know how to acquire these things?  How many people understand that you really can’t have both freedom and happiness?  But leave that for another time. 

Lieberman is whistling past the graveyard if he still insists that people should think of these elections as some sort of success.  As democratists are only too happy to point out when their democratisation empowers horrible killers and maniacs: “Elections are not the whole of democracy!”  To which I reply, “Well, okay, so stop talking about having elections as if it were proof of some success in democratisation.” 

The consequences of these elections have been dire.  They have not only politicised sectarian and ethnic identities even more than they were before, and they have not only managed to establish a Shi’ite majoritarian tyranny backed by the death squads and militias of the Shi’ite coalition parties, but the elections have created the absurd situation where the present government, our supposed ally in this conflict, depends for its existence on the political support of one of the primary causes of sectarian strife and has been entirely subservient to the interests of this sectarian faction for the past year.  Democracy, to the extent that it has actually come into existence in Iraq, has worked to the detriment of Iraq’s stability and security, and has therefore directly and negatively affected the U.S. mission in Iraq. 

Not surprisingly, holding elections in a war zone will tend to empower those who campaign on a platform of fanaticism, self-righteous anger and appeals to unity against your faction’s enemies.  Elections in such an environment are positively destabilising and dangerous.  To have three elections in the middle of the war indicates that on three separate occasions Washington foolishly treated one of the most dangerous sources of political instability as a near-panacea for the political and security ills of Iraq.  That Lieberman, at this late date, continues to repeat this nonsense suggests that he is unfit to speak on such matters.

At the center of this fray is Sen. Lieberman, a sort of Horatio at the congressional bridge–spiritedly trying to hold back a bipartisan stampede out of Iraq that he believes will result in devastating consequences for that country, the region and, most importantly, U.S. national security.

“Iraq is the central part of a larger and ultimately longer-term conflict in the Middle East between moderates and extremists, between democrats and dictators, between Iran- and Iraq-sponsored terrorism and the rest of the Middle East. . . . Are we going to surrender to them, surrender that country to them, and encourage people like them to be in authority and power all over the Middle East and in a better position to strike us again?” asks Mr. Lieberman. If only Livy had his quill today. ~Kimberley Strassel

Never mind that Horatio was defending Rome against invasion, not trying to persuade the Senate to persist in the invasion of some distant country that brought Rome nothing but grief.  Such is the confusion of war supporters that they mistake the unflinching endorsement of the warfare state’s misguided policies for patriotic valour.  (Then again, they have confused these two for quite a while, so this is nothing new.)  It’s more like Lieberman is some senator urging Augustus to send more legions into the Teutoberg Forest shortly after Varro’s legions were annihilated.  “We can’t withdraw behind the Rhine!  Defensible boundaries?  That would be crazy!”

 

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America

Watch out: we’re coming for you, Hedges!

I never did get around to finishing Hedges’ War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning.  Every few pages, after drawing you in with his fairly interesting stories and “straight from the front” war reporting experience that had informed his project, he would say something so phenomenally stupid (usually about the Balkans) that you simply had to stop reading for a little while so that you could still take him seriously when you resumed.  In the end, I stopped once too often and never continued.  Perhaps that was a mistake in that case, but here I think we are safe in assuming that a book that claims fascism is on the rise in America in the form of Christian fundamentalism is incredibly silly and almost needs no other comment.  

It appears that Mr. Hedges has taken his previous mixed bag of experience, insight and stupidity and taken out the first two parts, coming up with American Fascists with what remains.  Instead of more credibly noting that it is neoconservatives who exalt the power of will, glorify war and express a sort of aggressive hypernationalism and exude a secularising, revolutionary and modernist fervour similar to those of historic fascists, Hedges manages to target adherents of Dominion theology as the “American fascists.”  Here Hedges reminds us that to call someone a fascist is mainly to say, “I really hate that guy.”  It has no real meaning, because it never bears any relationship to the reality of the person or idea being described.  It hardly needs to be said that anyone who confuses the belief that the world should ordered according to Christ’s will with fascism, which is as close to the antithesis of this as there is, cannot be taken at all seriously.  Yet for some reason, for many on the right today, it is not clear that carrying out the will of Allah and exalting a secular nation-state are two radically different and mutually opposed things.  It is no wonder that left-liberals continue to indulge their favourite anti-Christian tropes when those conventionally assumed to be on the right begin babbling about fascist-this and fascist-that.  If an intellectually shallow slogan is good enough for them, why not for the left-liberals, too? 

For many of the same reasons why Islamofascist is a ridiculous and stupid term that ought to be driven from our political discourse forever, applying the word fascist to Christian fundamentalists of any stripe in this country is painfully wrong and betrays such an ignorance of what fascism is as to make the entirety of Hedges’ argument virtually worthless sight unseen.  It is worth mentioning here that all of the endless braying about Islamofascism or “Islamic fascism” has helped to give a new lease on life to this absurd designation of contemporary political and religious movements, so that the Ledeens, Hansons and Santorums have helped to pave the way for Chris Hedges’ screed.  Joining in the old leftist cant of screaming, ”Fascist!” while directing this rhetoric at jihadis, warmongers in this country have legitimised the basically illegitimate, destructive rhetorical habit of flinging the word fascist at all and sundry whom you find offensive.  As it always has and always will, it functions as a replacement for argument.  Using it is to strike a pose of moral righteousness as a way of denouncing someone else as ideologically deviant in the worst possible way and to tie their ideas, no matter how completely unrelated they are to fascism, to the crimes and horrors of Nazism in particular.  This tactic superficially endows the user with moral authority and a sense of historic purpose: my policy preferences and prejudices are not simply that, but they are expressions of a noble, abiding anti-fascist cause, and to oppose my positions is to objectively take the side of fascists everywhere.  To oppose my views on taxes (or foreign policy or health care or pensions) is to reincarnate the secular equivalent of absolute evil.  Because the anti-fascist has taken a stand against fascism of whatever kind, everything else he touches is ”sanctified” by association, just as anything associated (however falsely and dishonestly) with fascism is automatically considered dangerous, foul and retrograde.  This is quite mad, but it is also fairly common in our political discourse today.   

Like their neocon cousins (cousins whom they may despise, but who are nonetheless related to them), left-liberals define who they are by their “anti-fascism,” past and present, and perceive all of their enemies at home and abroad as varyingly serious versions of fascist.  Fascism–or the illusion of it conjured up by polemicists–is a force that gives liberals meaning.  When I say liberals, I am including many who are not normally considered to be either liberal or on the left. 

If I can overgeneralise a little, left-liberals are liberals who tend to see fascists all around them at home, while neocons are liberals who see fascists everywhere else in the world.  They are two sets of liberals who use the same kind of language, the same warnings, the same lame allusions to mid-twentieth century politics and international affairs and work from roughly the same assumptions about what constitutes the good, liberal democratic alternative.  All of them are preoccupied with finding and combating the new fascism and with preventing the rise and/or success of some supposed echo of Nazism; their shared moment, which they pretend they are always reliving, are the years just before and during WWII.  Jonah Goldberg has perhaps managed to combine these two kinds of paranoia by aligning left-liberals, at least rhetorically, with fascism and believing that the world is full of other new fascists.       

All of Hedges’ heavy breathing might be worth at least a chuckle, except that Dominionists have zero power in this country and are effectively represented by nobody in politics today.    Plus, it isn’t even new by the standards of lame, left-liberal attacks on religious conservatism–Michelle Goldberg and Damon Linker both beat Hedges to the theocratic punch last year with different, but related warning cries about impending theocratic domination in Kingdom Coming and The Theocons.  As Ross Douthat told us at the time, these books are all very silly and deeply flawed.

The current concern about Romney recalls anxieties about Mormons and Catholics from the nineteenth century, when both churches evoked suspicion. Critics thought of them as “fanatics,” a stereotype applied to Catholics, Mormons, Masons, and Muslims. They feared that leaders of these groups would employ their spiritual authority over blindly loyal followers to magnify their own power. Any prophet claiming to speak for God, they reasoned, must necessarily try to impose his beliefs on everyone else. But this argument, while based on logic, was impervious to fact. The real-world actions of Mormons and Catholics, and their protestations of innocence, meant nothing. ~Prof. Richard Lyman Bushman

It may be worth noting that Prof. Bushman frequently returns to this old charge of fanaticism when discussing this issue.  It is something like the lens through which he is viewing the entire controversy over Mormonism in our presidential politics today.  It was part of one of the replies (sorry, the TNR overlords have locked up the previously free debate) that he gave to Linker during their online debate.  Linker complained that he had never used the word fanatic–while doing everything he could to hint that Mormons were all basically fanatics-in-waiting–but Prof. Bushman had him pretty well cornered.  As I noted at the time, Linker was proceeding with a pretty impeccably logical polemic that brought his negative assumptions about the political dangers of Mormonism to their logical conclusions.  The only trouble with this was that the actual history, the reality of Mormons in American politics, did not support his nicely designed polemic.  Linker was convinced that he had proven his polemical point, and the targets of the polemic were equally convinced that he could not possibly be referring to them because he could not cite a single real episode where his fears of Mormon church interference in politics had been realised.

As I wrote at the time of the debate just a little under two weeks ago:

It seems to me that it is quite one thing to note that Mormons are not Christians and for Christian voters to take that into account when judging a Mormon candidate.  It is quite another thing to conjure up rather far-reaching, implausible scenarios of Mormon domination when the historical record suggests that nothing could be further from the minds of the Mormons themselves. 

To that I would add that Prof. Bushman’s latest article is very good but ultimately ends up targeting a kind of anti-Mormon criticism that barely exists anymore.  The concern of secularists who are anxious about a Mormon President is much more basic: they don’t trust anyone who believes as divinely revealed things they regard as patently absurd.  There is virtually no reasoning with such a view, since every attempt to show reasonableness or coherence within a religious framework will simply leave such critics cold.  Yet the Weisbergs of the world do not fear rule from Salt Lake City–they fear giving power to someone who thinks that the Lamanites actually existed.  Other opposition to Mormonism is of a fairly different nature as well.  The concern of most Christian voters who are put off by Romney’s Mormonism is not that Mormons are “fanatics” as such or that they are liable to follow the orders of their church authorities with blind zeal, but that they are Mormons in the first place.  It is a concern about what kind of symbolism and identity they are willing to endorse, and whether Mormons fit within their Christian identity.  Pretty plainly, a sizeable number of Christians hold that they do not fit. 

This should not distress true-believing Mormons, as I have said in the past, since they claim to be the true successor to the Church of the Apostles and view all others as frauds.  Given such a view, it is inevitable that Christians would consider Mormon and Christian identity to be mutually exclusive, just as Mormons, if they are serious about their founding claims, must see their true “Christian” identity and our “apostate” identity to be mutually exclusive.   

Are the American people ready for an elected president who was educated in a Madrassa as a young boy and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage?

This is the question Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s camp is asking about Sen. Barack Obama.

An investigation of Mr. Obama by political opponents within the Democratic Party has discovered that Mr. Obama was raised as a Muslim by his stepfather in Indonesia. Sources close to the background check, which has not yet been released, said Mr. Obama, 45, spent at least four years in a so-called Madrassa, or Muslim seminary, in Indonesia.

“He was a Muslim, but he concealed it,” the source said. “His opponents within the Democrats hope this will become a major issue in the campaign.” ~Insight

You had to wonder when something like this was going to come up.  People thought the middle name he received from his Muslim grandfather would be a problem–I’m sure that his supporters now wish that was his only connection to Islam.  On the other hand, when they referred to his upbringing in Indonesia, reporters thought they were doing Obama a favour (it made him wonderfully worldly and multicultural, you see), but until now people hadn’t brought up the logical Muslim connection.  Why were they in Indonesia, after all, and what did he do while he was there?  The point of the Democratic attacks dogs is that he concealed something about himself, but what a thing to conceal in the present environment! 

The concealment will probably hurt him more than the substance of what he concealed, but all of it is probably very bad for him.  This would be bad enough for the average pol, but for the Boy Wonder who will supposedly bring us a new politics filled with integrity and goodness it could be catastrophic.  Obviously, the fact he apparently used to be a Muslim will be a serious blow to any of his efforts to reach across those “traditional political lines” he is supposed to be so good at crossing (at least rhetorically).  He might be able to use it to his advantage because he has since left Islam behind and turned to Christianity, and if he struck the right tone he might be able to convince people that he is a more credible authority on the nature of the Islamic terrorist threat because of his background.  Nonetheless, it will raise serious doubts in the minds of many people that Obama needs as supporters.  More than that, if these claims are confirmed, they will do to Obama what the Mormon issue is doing to Romney by creating a serious problem for voters’ ability to identify with Obama and his biography.  Fair or not, when people hear that he attended a madrassa in Indonesia for several years, even though Indonesia is admittedly a country that would have been at that time still relatively untouched by Wahhabist infiltration, the words “security threat” are more likely to come to mind than “future President.”  

The biggest problem for Obama is that this revelation, if confirmed, will burst his bubble of content-free, feel-good media coverage.  Another problem is that it serves as a huge distraction and a potential source of confusion for anyone paying attention at this early stage.  Obama was supposed to be gearing up for his announcement next month, and now he will have to either deny, dismissively bat down or confront this story.  The news coverage will still be about him, but it will not be the flattering, “He has come to save us!” reporting to which we have been subjected so far.  If the Clinton team was the one that engineered this leak, it shows that they have lost none of their old capacity for dirty tricks and a willingness to take down anyone who gets in their way.    

And yet, literally billions of our neighbors deem the contents of the Bible and the Qur’an to be so profound as to rule out the possibility of terrestrial authorship. ~Sam Harris

If I made it my business to be a professional religion-basher, and if I thought getting my criticism of religion was right as an important way to shine the light of reason on the darkened corners of religious minds, I would at the very least get my facts straight about certain key elements of the religions I was bashing.  Christians and Muslims agree that their scriptures are authored by God in the sense that they accept that the revelation comes from God.  They do not agree that revelation came in unmediated form and that the text as set down in its complete form (which, of course, was a redacted and edited form also in the case of the Qur’an) is the uncreated Word of God.  Muslims believe this, Christians do not. 

Therein lies one of the most significant differences between the two religions, and the one that has possibly has done the most damage of the intellectual culture of the Islamic world than any other.  As I understand it, the Qur’an is not open to hermeneutics of any kind, and there is no other way to understand it except literally, where by literally I mean there is no possibility of interpreting the same text in several different senses.  That creates certain obvious problems for the possibility of reconciling revelation and other sources of truth, since multivalence in a religious text is effectively impossible without some room for interpretation.  On the other hand, Christians acknowledge, as they have acknowledged since the beginning, that Scripture is a divine revelation mediated through inspired authors and the composition of the texts is attributed to various patriarchs and apostles.  (We can set aside for the moment the high criticism’s doubts about the traditional attributions of books of the Bible.)  Terrestrial authorship, in the sense that it was understood that the Scriptures themselves were set down by men according to the revelation, is not only a possibility for Christians, but it is taken for granted and assumed to be the case. 

Muslims do not have a tradition of remembering the Composers of the Qur’an as they remember the Companions of the Prophet, because they believe that Jibril spoke the Qur’an to Muhammad and that was it.  Christians commemorate and many venerate the Evangelists and others in recognition of what can only be called terrestrial authorship of Scripture.  That they also take Scripture to be true and inerrant is not surprising, but they plainly do not rule out “the possibility of terrestrial authorship.”    

There was an awareness from the beginning that the accounts of the Gospels differed and there was also an awareness of the potential problems and contradictions in Scripture.  Because of the possibility of having multiple senses in which one could read Scripture, it became possible to interpret revelation on the assumption that God guided the Fathers and the authorities of the Church in this work of interpretation and teaching.  Undoubtedly Mr. Harris will spew forth venom at all of this as well, but for him to do that he would first have to know about it, which he evidently does not from the comments that he made.  

Andrew Sullivan, the vicar of doubt, is debating Sam Harris, ueber-atheist, in a blogalogue.  For me, this is like watching the Raiders play the Cowboys: the only thing to do is simply root for injuries and mistakes. 

Joseph Pearce has started more regular blogging at Small Is Still Beautiful.  He has two new posts this week: one on globalisation and one on the related problems of global free trade.  In the latest Mr. Pearce challenges what he calls “economic correctness,” in which support for free trade becomes the moral position against which it is not permitted to argue:

Global free trade has become an unquestionable moral dogma enshrined at the heart of modern economic theory. Aware of this “economic correctness”, politicians and economists are reluctant to question its presumptions and are failing to confront or even comprehend the effects of free trade on a world economy that is changing radically. Yet with rapid technological innovation it is possible, even likely, that the globalization of trade will destabilize the (post)industrialized world while at the same time exacerbating the problems facing the developing world.
 

The dogma of free trade has its roots in the nineteenth century and is based on the interrelated concepts of specialization and comparative advantage. Free trade theory stipulates that countries should specialize in those economic activities in which they excel in order to achieve a competitive edge, or a comparative advantage. They should abandon less efficient activities, relying on imports. These imports are paid for by exporting the surplus produced in the specialized industries. The result is greater efficiency and productivity and, therefore, higher levels of prosperity.
The rapid changes in the world over the past few decades throw the whole theory into question. New technology has made the global marketplace a practical, as opposed to a theoretical, reality. This has far-reaching consequences. During the past few years, four billion more people have entered the world economy. China, India, the countries of the Pacific rim and those of the former Soviet empire have all joined, or are trying to join, the Promised Land of global consumerism.
Sooner or later this is likely to cause major disruption. Labour costs in the developing world are as little as one-fiftieth of those in the developed, or over-developed, world. Since the free movement of technology and capital has `levelled the playing field’ the underpaid workers of the third world are now in direct competition with their comparatively rich counterparts in Europe and America. The workers of India, China and Bangladesh are part of the same global labour market as the workers of Britain and the United States. The implications are clear. Two identical enterprises, one in Britain and one in Vietnam, produce an identical product, using identical technology, destined for identical markets. They both have access to the same pool of international capital. Indeed they are both part of the same multinational corporation. There is only one significant difference: labour costs in Vietnam are one-fiftieth of those in Britain. It is not necessary to be an economist to realize which enterprise has the comparative advantage.

I know many of you have already jumped in and have been commenting at SISB for many days, but I encourage everyone to go see what Mr. Pearce is saying and, from what I have read so far I would recommend the book to you all.

Unlike Jesse Jackson with his epochal primary and caucus victories in the 1980s, Obama is not a protest candidate dissed and dismissed by party insiders, but a mainstream contender with a plausible route to the nomination and the White House. ~Walter Shapiro

You mean Carol Mosley-Braun wasn’t a contender?  Her seventeen voters will be devastated to hear that.

What is Obama’s “plausible route” to the nomination?  Forget about winning it all for a minute.  How does he win any of the primaries, much less enough of them to wrap up the whole thing?  People say these things about Obama being a serious contender, as if wishes were election outcomes, but they never provide the explanation for how Obama might plausibly become the next Democratic nominee.  Where is he going to win?  Maybe he wins in New Hampshire, or maybe he gets a Howard Dean-respectable (but disappointing) second place and it goes downhill from there.  Years from now, people will tell of how they were there in the winter of ‘06 when Obama first came to New Hampshire and how nothing he did later could stir up the kind of sheer spontaneous interest that first visit generated.  This might be because he is not actually that interesting.  He is a politician of conventional liberal views perfectly suited to his party and his original constituents in northeastern Illinois, and he has impressive rhetorical skills and a telegenic personality.  That’s all.  He has not come to lead you, the Democrats, to the Promised Land.   

I see no realistic scenario in which he wins in Iowa, which is a virtual lock for Vilsack, or Nevada, which some see as Edwards’ likely stomping grounds, and I assume that South Carolina will probably also be Edwards’ for the taking.  (These assessments start to run contrary to my assumption that losing VP candidates never win their party’s presidential nomination, but right now Edwards has many advantages, including a message, that Obama does not have.)  After that, the primary calendar in February looks fairly grim for Obama: Delaware (Biden’s home state), Missouri, D.C., Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Hawaii and Idaho.  Maybe Hawaiians will go for their “native son,” but most the rest of these, save Wisconsin and D.C., form a roll call of states where left-liberals fear to tread.  He probably wins D.C. and gets few delegates for his trouble.  Wisconsin would have gone to Feingold, had he decided to run, and could fall to Obama, but it is hardly certain.  (And yes, I know that it is somewhat ridiculous to be talking about these things a year in advance.)  Therefore, he stands a good chance of being fifth or sixth in the delegate count (behind, say, Clinton, Edwards, Biden, Clark, and Vilsack) at the end of February, which is not where he would need to be if he were going to win it all.  If Obama is going to win the whole shooting match, he has to pull off victories in three of the first four votes.  That is what he needs to convince people that he is a serious candidate, even if it would take fewer victories to secure frontrunner status for someone else, because he is so inexperienced and unprepared for what he is about to undertake.   

States with major metropolitan areas that would probably be most favourable to Obama don’t begin coming up until at least Super Tuesday when Massachusetts and New York roll around, and as it stands now he has to wait until March 18 for Illinois’ primary.  There are attempts in the works to move Illinois to early February, but failing that Obama’s presumed natural base of support in this state may end up doing him little good if he cannot survive until that vote.  California deceptively waits at the end on June 10 like a mirage for the man dying in the desert, offering the illusory hope that it might rescue a failing campaign at the very end of the primaries.  The nomination will have been wrapped up by then, as it always, always is.  The new calendar has ensured that the nominee will be known even sooner than in previous contests.  The other big hitters will keep going through Super Tuesday for the sake of form, but it is fair to assume that whoever gets the early lead wins.  Someone like Vilsack winning it all is looking less implausible by the day, while Obama’s implausible candidacy just gets harder and harder to take.

These aren’t Vulcans.  There are Klingons in the White House.  But unlike the real [sic] Klingons, these guys have never fought a battle of their war.  Don’t let faux Klingons send real Americans to war. ~Rep. David Wu (D-OR), dragging down a good speech against pro-war ideologues with a fairly lame and strained joke about Bush’s foreign policy “Vulcans” led by Condi Rice.

 

Yes, Gov. Romney is a Mormon. We are not. According to the liberal media, this is an unbridgeable gap, and evangelicals will never turn out to support a faithful Mormon like Governor Romney. As usual, the media have it wrong. And they root their error (as usual) in a fundamental misunderstanding about American evangelicals—seeing us as ignorant and intolerant simpletons who are incapable of making sophisticated political value judgments. ~Evangelicals for Mitt

A reader has alerted me to this pro-Romney site.  It is worth a look to see the arguments of evangelicals who are willing to look past Romney’s Mormonism and support him based on shared policy views.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think evangelicals who refuse to vote for Romney because of his Mormonism are “intolerant simpletons” incapable of making “sophisticated political value judgements.”  I think these evangelicals actually believe someone’s religion really matters for the formation of his worldview and they actually prefer having a Christian, probably preferably a Christian who shares their entire faith and experience as evangelicals, as the person to represent them.  This is completely understandable and even laudable.  There are evangelicals for whom Mormonism is a bridge too far, and there are those for whom it is not, but the first group outnumbers the latter and, I suspect, feels much more strongly about it.  In the primaries, the antis will overwhelm the pros. 

Back to the quote.  Perhaps it is because of their disdain for evangelicals that the liberal media have played up Romney’s Mormonism as being in conflict with evangelical voters, or perhaps it is because they enjoy pushing the “religious politics has come back to haunt the GOP” narrative, or perhaps it is just because they like to report on conflict that will generate interest in presidential election reporting in early 2007 when most people are more concerned with the NFL playoffs or paying off their Christmas bills.  I don’t know the real reason why they’re talking about it. 

But it probably has something to do with anecdotal evidence of anti-Mormon opposition among evangelicals and the slightly more scientific evidence that half of all evangelicals would never consider voting for a Mormon.  It certainly has to do with evidence that four out of ten voters from the general population would likewise not even consider it.  Maybe the other approximately half of evangelicals will enthusiastically vote for him and “evangelicals for Mitt” will not have the odd, out-of-place sound to it that “hawks for Kucinich” or “pacifists for Gingrich” have.  Even so, losing half of the evangelical vote before he was even officially in the race on the Mormon issue alone is a political death blow to an avowedly social conservative candidate. 

Let’s go back to those Rasmussen numbers and look at how they break down.  Who are these anti-Mormon voters?  It turns out that they are from pretty much every possible group.  Some are more likely to refuse consideration of such a vote, but there are high levels (30%+)of resistance across the board.  Remember that this is a straight-up yes or no question: would you ever consider voting for a Mormon for President?  Those opposed are not leaving Romney any room with which he can work: they will never consider it.

43% of Catholics say they would never consider voting for a Mormon, and 36% of Protestants (classified separately from evangelicals) and 53% of evangelicals say the same.  That’s a lot of people with religious affiliations who say, “No, thank you” when presented with a Mormon presidential candidate.  That’s without asking any other questions of him.  What about his policy views, his “values”?  These are apparently irrelevant. 

Opposition intensifies in direct proportion to a voter’s frequency of religious attendance: only 37% of those who rarely or never attend services are unwilling, 44% of weekly attendees are unwilling to consider such a vote and 59% of people who attend services more than once a week are unwilling.  This makes sense.  The more practically religious you are, the more a candidate’s religious identity will probably matter to you.  But that doesn’t get away from the startling fact that over a third of people who almost never go into a church will never vote for a Mormon presidential candidate.  Against such huge numbers and strong opposition no candidate can hope to prevail.  There is not enough time, even if he had the luxury of trying, to “educate” the voters on what it means to be Mormon.  This education is almost certainly needed, if only to root out egregious and obvious errors of fact that have lodged in the public consciousness, but the middle of a presidential campaign is neither the time nor the place for it.  In popular culture (see Big Love or Entourage), mainstream Mormonism is still associated, incorrectly, with polygamy, which has not been helped by Romney hamming it up with jokes about marriage being between “a man and a woman…and a woman and a woman.”  Yes, that’s very droll, Mitt, but it only works if everyone knows that Mormons no longer practice polygamy.  It would not be a surprise to me if a great many people still don’t know that or if they easily confuse Mormon splinter groups with the main LDS church.  In any case, Romney is banking on the public being relatively well-informed about the internal affairs of a relatively obscure religious group with which most people have no dealings, and this is a losing bet.   

The chances of a Mormon candidate are worse among women than among just about any other group: 47% would not consider voting for one for President, while only 38% of men would not.  Party affiliation does seem to make some significant difference.  Pat yourselves on the backs, Republicans–you are marginally more accepting of Mormon presidential candidates than much of the rest of America!  Among Republicans, 42% would consider voting for a Mormon, 40% wouldn’t.  Among Democrats, opposition is greater (32% willing vs. 51% unwilling).  Of the three options, those not affiliated with either are least likely to be opposed to considering a vote for a Mormon (42/33).

Ideology does not seem to matter in determining a refusal to support a Mormon candidate.  Each group (conservative, moderate, liberal) has equally high levels of refusal to consider such a vote (43, 44, 41% respectively).  Liberals are slightly more likely (44%) to consider voting for a Mormon, and conservatives the next most likely (39%).  Curiously enough, “moderates” are the least willing (34%).  People of indeterminate ideology (”not sure”) are just as opposed (43%) and even less willing to consider voting for a Mormon (25%).  The conservative numbers seem to mirror the overall national results of 38% willing to consider a vote and 43% unwilling.  Obviously, if Romney loses almost half of conservatives from the beginning before he even opens his mouth, he has no realistic chance in the primaries.  To have a fighting chance, he would have to get every single vote of those who are open to voting for a Mormon, and he simply isn’t going to get all those votes.

How important a candidate’s faith is to voters heavily determines opposition.  Among those who say it is “very important,” opposition is intense (59%), and among those who say it is “somewhat important” opposition is still considerable (38%).  Almost inexplicably, though, among those for whom a candidate’s faith is “not very” or “not at all important” there are still large numbers who would never consider such a vote (31 and 30% respectively).  There is clearly not just an intense religious opposition to a Mormon presidential candidate, but what seems to be a generalised, nationwide, cross-cutting cultural hostility that can be found in virtually every group of people in America. 

If Mitt Romney could somehow get himself elected President in the midst of this, he would have to be considered one of the great political and campaigning geniuses of the last century.  No offense to Gov. Romney, but however good he is he isn’t that good of a campaigner.  I don’t think someone with the political skills of Clinton and Reagan combined could pull this off.  What he is trying to do is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.  At best he might hope for a few decent second-place finishes in a few places and shoot for the VP slot, but even in that case his Mormonism seems likely to be a weight that will drag any GOP ticket down (after all, if all these people won’t vote for a Mormon for President, why would they vote for a Mormon to be first in line for the Presidency?).

With all of this in mind, there is something that needs to be said clearly and as often as necessary to make the point: Romney’s religion is a problem not just for the Jacob Weisbergs and evangelicals out there, but it is more or less a problem to some large degree for every kind of non-Mormon American out there.  It roughly splits the country down the middle between those who would never even consider the possibility of a Mormon President and those who are open to that possibility.  It would be worth inquiring how it is that Mormons can be distrusted this much by such a wide variety of people.  Christians are obviously more likely to view Mormonism poorly for religious reasons, and secularists are apt to view it at least as poorly as they view other religions, but how exactly does anti-Mormonism become such a general phenomenon such that at least one-third of every group into which they broke down this polling information was firmly opposed to a Mormon President?  Is it mainly a product of Christian opposition to Mormon theological errors?  Is it leftover disdain for past polygamous practices being transferred to the modern church?       

2007 will be the Year of Insufferable Media Coverage Of A No-Hope Candidate, for Obama is running for President.  Websites like this one will be everywhere, and the Hawaiian tourism authority will soon consecrate his birthplace as a locus sanctus Democraticus where weary white yuppie pilgrims can come to pay homage to the genius of Obama and receive remission for their guilty feelings about being white and privileged, for Obama is running for President.  Members of Oprah’s Book Club will receive complimentary photographs of Obama swimming at the beach, and hundreds of people with IQs over 120 will be poring over the saccharine, “let’s unite America” drivel of The Audacity of Hope in dire earnest as they attempt to scry Obama’s views on…well, on anything at all, for Obama is running for President.  The way things are going there might even be, God help us, a line of action figures before the year is out.

I am here to tell you, friends, that this particular episode of national lunacy will be mercifully brief, though it has already gone on for far, far too long.  By this time next year, Obama will have had to say something distinctive about substantive policy.  He will have to cast votes on the war and numerous other issues that he will have to be able to defend, and this time he won’t have a cartoon opponent like Alan Keyes to overcome. 

What he says is almost beside the point.  Some people will agree, probably more will disagree, but at that point the dream of an Obama who will reconcile all oppositions within himself will be over.  That is inevitable in political contestation, which is why the promise to “bring people together” is always such an illusory, deceitful one.  Once he finally does say something, he will no longer be Barack, Font of National Good Feelings, but will become a rather conventional and boring pol who will either reveal himself to be a dreary technocrat spouting, Gore-like, minute details of legislation or the creamless cream puff I take him to be.  Because of his inexperience and the superficial nature of his appeal to date, he will probably take the technocratic route to show that he “understands the issues” and he will overcompensate here.  He will cease to charm, and he will try to persuade by rattling off facts and figures.   

I do not say all this because I assume all of the superficial charm and media hype will not influence voters.  They will influence many voters.  But the influence will not last, the charm will get old and at some point the hype will die down.  That is when the real Obama, the first-term U.S. Senator who hasn’t had real high-stakes electoral competition and hasn’t had to prove himself in a tough statewide contest, much less on the national stage, will emerge.  He will try to split the difference as a progressive who doesn’t speak in prophetic utterances about our impending doom.  In so doing, his fluffy style will attract all of the DLC types who will be revolted by his policy views, while he will be alienating the true lefty believers with his “we need to cooperate and bring America together” rhetoric.  The black activist establishment in the Democratic Party doesn’t really trust him and doesn’t seem to like him very much.  As they see it, he is reaping the rewards of their labour, which is true to the extent that they have helped inculcate profound feelings of guilt among middle-class white people who are fueling the Obama boom, which in turn benefits from the fact that Obama does not inspire these same feelings.  By supporting him, they can expunge their guilt without the danger of acquiring more.  

Any assumption that black votes in early Democratic primaries are locked up for him is a very foolish one.  He cannot, or at least does not, lecture people about slavery and segregation, and he is not really a product of the culture that is preoccupied with these things.  He now comes from the South Side, but he is not of the South Side.  Of course, people here generally like him very much, but does he pass the “authenticity” test elsewhere around the country?  One of the reasons why he apparently causes so many white people to gush and enthuse over his candidacy is that he is not personally tied into American black history.  That is what makes him theoretically viable and electable on the national stage, and it is also what weakens him among black voters in the Democratic primaries.

Obama and Tancredo have both effectively announced for ‘08.  At the rate that such unelectable, long-shot candidates are jumping into the race, can it be long before Kinky Friedman throws in his hat?  I say, the more the merrier.  Our postmodern friend, James Poulos, thinks Obama is not just electable but will, in fact, be the nominee.

For some merriment, here is Dennis Kucinich–also running for President–doing some a cappella singing.  If you want some real laughs, just listen to the rest of his speech.  I admire his long-standing opposition to the war, but it’s hard not to laugh when you hear someone say, “Separation is the cause of insularity,” or when he starts rattling off a list of great proponents of nonviolence that starts with “Dr.” King and ends with Jesse Jackson.

ConservativeHome understands that Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox has been ordered to tone down his neoconservative views and row in behind William Hague’s line on the war in Iraq and the threat posed by Iran. ~ConservativeHome

Nothing was more politically valuable to the beginning of Mr. Bush’s War than to have reliable British support, and nothing was more practically important for Blair’s participation in the war than the complete capitulation of the Opposition under Duncan-Smith to the invasion.  If the Tories begin siding with the British people and start opposing the war they should never have backed, they will be helping to hasten the day when it will become clear that our withdrawal from Iraq is the best option left to us.  Predictably, the NROniks are upset.   

Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms.

8) If you are 18 and figuring out what course of study to pursue for the next 4 years what changes would you make to your educational path now that you have some hindsight?

I would study a lot more history. Thanks to my college’s refusal to tell its ignorant students what an educated person should know-heaven forbid that it actually exercise intellectual authority!-I was required to study no history and didn’t know enough to do so on my own. ~Heather Mac Donald

Okay, for those who are in danger of being all “Mac Donalded” out, I have just one more thing to say about Ms. Mac Donald’s review before I turn to other things.  The juxtaposition of the remark about theocons arguing for the necessity of religion and Ms. Mac Donald’s admitted lack of study of history caught my attention.  It struck me that her admitted lack of a proper education in history, which she laudably wishes to remedy, might explain a lot about Ms. Mac Donald’s atheism. 

Atheists are great ones for posing what they think are really baffling conundrums for believers, but their acquaintance with history, as far as religion is concerned, is typically with the black marks and scandals.  There was religious fanaticism!  Well, yes, and there was far, far worse atheist fanaticism, so which would you rather see dominating society?  They seem uninterested to query why it is that every organised society from the earliest tribes to the most technically sophisticated civilisations have had one form or another of propitiating, worshipping and otherwise interacting with the supernatural and divine.  If they do ask the question, they have ready-made answers handy: ignorance, fear of death, fear of the unknown, opiate of the masses, etc.  It usually does not seem to trouble them that the greatest minds in every period of our history not only acknowledged one divinity or another but insisted on the importance of reverence for God or the gods for the well-being and virtuous life of man.  They were caught up in the superstitions of their time, or they were afraid to challenge the religious authorities, the atheist will reply.  Maybe, but what of the numerous philosophers who claimed to be able to show, by means of reason, the necessity of the existence of God?  Though all these men considered the possibility of atheism, at least in passing, the absurdity of it always prevented them from embracing it. 

It is no wonder then that, when faced with something like the ontological proof, which they no longer even attempt to answer, most atheists retreat to tired arguments from theodicy.  Having repeatedly failed to disprove God’s existence in the realm of logic, which was their only real chance, they now hope to shame believers with the scandal of the fallenness of the world.  “Look, a tsunami!  What about your loving God now, eh?” they cry.  This can sometimes scandalise believers, but it does not do much to disprove God’s existence.  

Doesn’t the awesome weight of all of these historical precedents make the ”skeptical conservative,” the conservative atheist, think twice about whether he has gone awry somewhere?  Surely it is one of the marks of conservatism to defer to the authority of tradition on the assumption that the “individual is foolish, but the species is wise” and that the tradition has accumulated the wisdom of centuries as compared against your brief lifespan.  These are not definitive proofs in favour of the claims of the tradition (deference to tradition is based heavily on experience and an assumption that time-tested ways are best, which do not yield proofs as such), but for the conservative they are important claims that have to be taken into account when forming a view about anything. 

Perhaps the most stunning thing about atheism is the sheer presumption of it.  I don’t mean simply the presumption against God, which would be enough in itself, but the presumption that you and a few other adventurous souls have figured out something that the vast majority of mankind has never known about a subject for which the atheist can obviously have no empirical evidence one way or the other.  Heady stuff, indeed.  Say whatever else you will about it, this setting of the ideas of the self over and against the inherited wisdom of ages is one of the main things that is unconservative about atheism.  Even if atheists were right, we should be clear that there would be nothing conservative about their position, but would, if adopted by society as a whole, quite obviously involve a cultural revolution and destruction of a significant portion of our cultural inheritance.  In the end, what is it that atheists would conserve of our civilisation, when so much of the substance of our civilisation has its origins in Christianity or in the cultural derivatives thereof? 

Would greater familiarity with history weaken an atheist’s certainty that religion is unnecessary for the healthy flourishing of society?  I almost have to think that it would.  The nightmare of the 20th century, defined to such a great extent in so many parts of the world by organised godlessness and the official repudiation of all religion, should give any convinced atheist pause.  If man does not flourish in a godless regime, and if godless regimes have a record of unusually great barbarity and human cruelty, it does at the very least suggest that religion aids in human flourishing and probably has some moderating effect on the use of political power.  On sheer pragmatic grounds alone, someone familiar with the historical record would have to conclude that atheism, at least if embraced officially, is bad for the health of society.     

I have always been amazed that the liberal media is willing to let stand the right’s equation between “religious voters,” “values voters,” and opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and stem cell research. There is no necessary relation between being religious, having values, or opposition to stem cell research or gay marriage, in my view. That having been said, the current obsession with homosexuality on the part of the Religious Right would seem to assure it a political relevance for the Republican Party for some time. ~Heather Mac Donald

This isn’t all that amazing when you think about it.  The media indulge this conceit, to the extent that they do, for two main reasons.  The first is that specifically tying “religious voters” to abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research helps to confirm their image of these “religious voters” as intolerant, meddlesome, fanatical and potentially dangerous.  By setting things up this way, they have done religious conservatives no favours in the PR battle.  The message that comes across–the message they make sure comes across–is: “These people want to tell you what you can do with your own body and would rather see you die in agony than allow science to save you.”  This is tendentious and wrong in many ways, but that is why the media have been only too glad to emphasise these aspects of religious conservatism.  These aspects obviously exist and are important to religious conservatives, but by making these the end-all and be-all of what the rest of the public knows about “religious voters” the media succeed in making “religious voters” and their views appear very unattractive to “moderates” and independents.  In this way, they make the pro-life view into a test of religious fundamentalism: if you don’t want to be considered a fundamentalist, don’t oppose abortion.  Likewise, according to this narrative, if you don’t want to oppress people, don’t oppose gay marriage; if you don’t want to inflict endless suffering on the sick and dying, don’t oppose any kind of stem-cell research.  Of course, religious conservatives make up most of the people who oppose these things and they certainly make up a large proportion of the activists against all of them, so it is not entirely a media creation.  However, no one has suggested that it is impossible to oppose these things without being religious. 

The second–this is where the ”values” scam comes in–is that to call them “values voters” functions a way of avoiding any talk of morality or virtue as such.  Instead of, say, ”culture war,” which implied that one side was fighting for our culture and the other was fighting against it (and this had obvious negative political implications for the latter group), talking about “values” helps make the issues in question less powerful and can make the policy implications of the strength of a “values voter” bloc far more obscure.   To refer to someone as a “values voter” is actually not a move that invests them with some special claim to being concerned with living well or doing the right thing and so on.  This move undermines any strong claims about serious moral questions by making support for the virtues and opposition to vices into interchangeable, malleable preferences (”values”) rather than commitments to moral truth.  In end, speaking of them as “values voters” is much less favourable than referring to them as cultural or religious or socially conservative voters, since all of these other terms can sound appealing to many people.  In the end, calling them values voters is a way of lumping together a whole class of people who are voting on a number of disparate cultural concerns and putting them under a bland, meaningless label.  The phrase functions as a way of watering down the significance of these voters and effectively reducing their power by diluting or even negating what it is they stand for.  Voting against moral and cultural decline, for example, which might be conveyed by the label cultural conservative, sends one message and carries more weight, while voting for “values” carries as much weight in its effect on the political debate as going to a clearance sale.  Naturally, secular conservatives such as George Will and now Heather Mac Donald take offense that they have been excluded, so to speak, from the camp of “values voters,” not seeing that the entire “values voter” conceit is a way to reduce and weaken the impact of religious conservatism on the public debate.  They should instead welcome the empty-headed “values” talk, since it helps to reduce religious conservative views on so many questions of social policy to just so many preferences and/or prejudices.  It tacitly assumes that the people who “value” life and marriage are basically sentimental about what they “value” and lack good arguments for their preferences or it can imply that they devalue other people’s rights.  Either way, it is a way of subtly undermining religious conservatives.  It is not a compliment, and the possession of this label is not something that other people should envy.      

7) You’ve labelled yourself a ’skeptical conservative.’ Would you also say you are hopeful about the trajectory that this republic might take into the future, or do you warrant that the corner is likely turned and we’ll be fighting a rearguard action for most of our lives?
I will interpret your question to mean whether I think secularism will strengthen in the U.S. over time. I am not ordinarily an optimist, but I take heart from the incensed response to the existence of a mere three contemporary books debunking religion. While the proportion of Americans who believe in Biblical revelation remains depressingly high and doesn’t yet show much sign of decline, the reaction of religion’s conservative apologists to a few atheists sticking their heads out of the foxhole suggests to me a possible nervousness about religion’s hold in the future. First Things editor Joseph Bottum calls secularists “superannuated,” in the aforementioned book Why I Turned Right. Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger claims a religious provenance for the following “American” virtues: “fortitude, prudence, temperance, justice, charity, hope, integrity, loyalty, honor, filial respect, mercy, diligence, generosity and forbearance.” Yet Classical philosophers and poets celebrated many of these “religious” virtues as vigorously as any Evangelist or Christian divine, and these ideals are in any case human virtues, which is why religion can appropriate them. As for Henninger’s suggestion that mercy and hope had to wait upon Christianity to make their appearance on the scene, I would need more evidence. Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

Up to half of the conservative writers and thinkers whom I know are non-believers. And yet because of the rule that one may never ever question claims made on behalf of faith, they remain in the closet. At some point, however, they may emerge to challenge the idea that without religion, personal and social anarchy looms. ~Heather Mac Donald

I don’t want to keep harping on similarities between Ms. Mac Donald and Andrew Sullivan, because this really isn’t fair to Ms. Mac Donald.  She is, for the most part, a clear and logical thinker who can make compelling arguments based on solid evidence.  Sullivan is a egoist who likes to throw tantrums and wrap them up in philosophical covering.  For the most part, it is complete coincidence that both he and Ms. Mac Donald call themselves skeptics.  She demonstrates an intellectual rigour and coherence, whatever else you would like to say about her views, that Sullivan does not possess.  She at least has the decency to throw religion right out the window rather than mangle it and distort it to suit her own preoccupations as Sullivan does. 

However, the first part of this comment, which I first saw at The Corner, was the thing that annoyed me and got me to read the interview in its entirety because it struck me as such an unreservedly silly thing to say.  Since there is no one who better embodies unreserved silliness than Andrew Sullivan, a comparison with him was unavoidable, but in this case there is another similarity.  As some may have noticed, whenever someone criticises Andrew Sullivan (not counting me, as he has so far studiously ignored everything I have said) he will write a post citing the criticism and then commenting on it with a remark that goes something like this: “Ha ha!  Now I’ve got them on the run!  I have hit them where it hurts.  See how they mercilessly reject everything I have said?  See how they have eviscerated my rather embarrassingly poor argument?  They will soon be mine!” 

Ms. Mac Donald’s comment, though not nearly as obnoxious as anything Sullivan has written in this vein, reminds me of this.  Strong and perhaps indignant response is, according to this view, a sign of weakness and proof in this case that the grip of religion is slipping.  The theocons must be very perplexed about all of this.  In the space of a few months they have been accused of being virtual masters of the universe and on the verge of destroying secular America (that’s Linker’s thesis) and now they are said to be nervously watching the collapse of religion in America and are possibly “running scared.”  I happen to think both are wrong in different ways, but it is curious how two people equally appalled by religious conservatism can come to such radically different conclusions about the strength of their foe.   

This part strikes me as particularly odd:

Do these overbroad claims for the necessity of religion suggest that the theocons are running scared? Perhaps.

First of all, this has to be the first time I have ever heard anyone call Daniel Henninger a theocon, but leave that aside for the moment.  What is the evidence that “theocons” are “running scared”?  Because they have responded to a few atheists with many arguments?  The “incensed response” to Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, to take two of the three atheists in question, comes from the natural irritation that their insult-laden polemics cause and from what must be the offensive nature of their claims.  Any given atheist advances his view by telling the vast majority of people that they strongly believe in utter nonsense, and everyone else quite understandably responds poorly to being told, for all intents and purposes, he is a fool and a cretin.  If the response were anything other than incensed, then perhaps the meaning that belief in God held for people might be said to be weakening.  Rarely does one see the active, robust defense of something that is shared by a great many people taken as proof of that thing’s decline.  It is when religion no longer inspires and no longer commands loyalty and defense that something can be said to be declining and failing.  Reaction is evidence that something is alive and still able and willing to fight.  If religious conservatives sat still and did nothing while they were figuratively prodded and poked by atheists and secularists, that would be much more clear proof that the spirit had gone out of them and their beliefs were headed for the scrapheap.       

Religion is an important buttress to social order.  Is it possible to have social order without religion?  Yes, but it will often be of a more brutal, unethical and tyrannical kind.  It will be much less likely to be good order.  More to the point, it is not so much anarchy, but the crushing weight of some form or other of totalitarianism that man without religion has to fear.  Dostoevsky reminded us that man has a natural need to worship something.  If he will not worship God, he will worship other men, the state or things of this world.  Personal anarchy is not the great threat of a man without God.  Some atheists have been the most regimented, humourless, abstemious people on the planet.  It is personal debasement and personal degradation within a godless system that makes the conservative turn away in horror from what an atheist society will do to its members.  As Eliot famously and memorably said, “If you will not have God (and He is a jealous God), you should pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.”  

Incidentally, if half of all conservative writers and thinkers whom Ms. Mac Donald knows are non-believers, where would she ever get the idea that religion has come to rule over conservatism?

Given that the liberal elites have ignored the 70% black out-of-wedlock birth rate for decades in discussing the causes of black poverty, I am confident that open borders conservatives will prove just as capable of ignoring the 48% Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate as they perpetuate the myth of redemptive Hispanic family values. ~Heather Mac Donald

For all of the very critical things I have had to say about her remarks about conservatism, religion and the religious, Ms. Mac Donald really shines when she speaks about empirical evidence.  She knows what she’s talking about here, and I don’t say this simply because I fully agree with her rejection of the pro-immigration “family values” rhetoric.

Mr. Bush used to have an old stand-by line that has, thankfully, been retired from service for the time being.  “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.”  This was supposed to be a clever way to cajole social conservatives into embracing amnesty.  It didn’t work.  It did manage to convince many of us that “compassionate conservatism” was a bad joke.  But Mr. Bush was right in a sense–these values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.  To look at Ms. Mac Donald’s numbers, if 48% of Hispanics are outside of wedlock “family values” don’t even reach the Rio Grande in some parts of the country.  If they had their way, the open borders crowd would help make sure that this family values-free zone increased in size at a steady rate. 

The reason for the open borders crowd’s indifference to such empirical evidence is pretty clearly ideological.  It doesn’t matter that there actually are so many out-of-wedlock births among Hispanics–the ideologue knows that all Hispanics are Catholics (which is increasingly untrue) and that such Catholics must have families probably just like 19th and early 20th century eastern European families (definitely untrue) and that, somehow, social and political revolution has not affected Catholics from Latin America (absolutely untrue).  In this fantasy, to which even some conservative Catholics in this country may be very susceptible (Sam Brownback, this means you), the moral and social changes that have obviously swept over the Catholic world everywhere else to significant effect must have never reached Mexico and points south.  While accusing other conservatives of nostalgia for olden times, the open borders crowd still seems to imagine Latin America as it was maybe fifty years ago or more, or perhaps simply as some ideal type of traditional society that can be used as a way to refuel the drained moral batteries of modern America.  

Ideology is usually the cause for most examples of people ignoring evidence.  In this case, the ideology involves holding at least these three ideas: America is a nation of immigrants, therefore it is inevitably good for American society to have more immigrants, it is even better to have hardy, Catholic immigrants who possess good “values” and because they are hardy, Catholic immigrants it would be hypocritical for Christians to want to keep them from coming here and it would also be anti-Catholic bigotry.  It is a potent little cocktail of cant, ignorance and political blackmail all rolled into one.  It will take a lot of work presenting the evidence to the public to break the spell this ideology has on policymakers. 

Around that time, I had started noticing the puzzling logic of petitionary prayer. What was the theory of God behind prayer websites, for example: that God is a democratic pol with his finger to the wind of public opinion? Is the idea that if only five people are praying for the recovery of a beloved grandmother from stroke, say, God will brush them off, but that if you can summon five thousand people to plead her case, he will perk up and take notice: “Oh, now I understand, this person’s life is important”? And what if an equally beloved grandmother comes from a family of atheist curs? Since she has no one to pray for her, will God simply look the other way? If someone could explain this to me, I would be very grateful.

I also wondered at the narcissism of believers who credit their good fortune to God. A cancer survivor who claims that God cured him implies that his worthiness is so obvious that God had to act. It never occurs to him to ask what this explanation for his deliverance says about the cancer victim in the hospital bed next to his, who, despite the fervent prayers of her family, died anyway.

As I was pondering whether any of these practices could be reconciled with rationality, the religious gloating of the conservative intelligentsia only grew louder. The onset of the Iraq war expanded the domain of religious triumphalism to transatlantic relations: what makes America superior to Europe, we were told by conservative opinionizers, is its religious faith and its willingness to invade Iraq. George Bush made the connection between religious beliefs and the Iraq war explicit, with his childlike claim that freedom was God’s gift to humanity and that he was delivering that gift himself by invading Iraq.

I need not rehearse here how Bush’s invocation of the divine gift of freedom overlooks the Bible, the persistence throughout history of hierarchical societies that have little use for personal autonomy, and the unique, centuries-long struggle in the West to create the institutions of limited government that underwrite our Western idea of freedom. Suffice it to say, the predictable outcome of the Iraq invasion did not convince me that religious belief was a particularly trustworthy ground for political action. ~Heather Mac Donald

The remarks about prayer and claims of divine healing or grace are stunning to me.  These are the kinds of objections college freshmen come up with in their religion classes in the first few weeks before they learn that they don’t know anything.  If man is free, prayer must exist.  God is always seeking to draw us to Himself, but He does not, would not compel us to draw nigh.  Likewise, He is willing to provide for us in many specific instances, but will not do so unless we ask it of Him.  There are occasions where God, in His infinite wisdom, will refuse our petition because what we ask for is not what we actually require for our edification and sanctification. There are other occasions when God may approach us unbidden, but it is only through the practice of prayer and the habits of mind and spirit that this practice establishes in us that we are prepared to receive Him. 

Imagine, if you will, a man on an island in the middle of a wide and deep river.  On the far shore there is a fisherman casting his nets.  The fisherman has a boat and has a large catch of fish, and could bring the man food or even take him over to the shore if the man were to ask it of him.  The man has no nets and nothing else on the island with which to fish, and he has no other means of sustenance.  In the course of time, the man will gradually starve if he does not humble himself and ask for help from the fisherman.  If Ms. Mac Donald were there to advise him, she would tell him that he should not say anything to the fisherman.  He should not have to ask the fisherman, because he should already know that the man is in need and should provide for him without any word from the man.  Perhaps Ms. Mac Donald would be more satisfied if everyone spiritually starved in their own autonomy rather than engage in something so irrational as prayer. 

Indeed, it would be even more absurd, according to Ms. Mac Donald, for other people on the shore with the fisherman to ask the fisherman to intercede on behalf of the man.  Ms. Mac Donald would interrupt: “What possible difference could that make?”  (Of course, the number isn’t really what matters, but the spirit in which the prayer is offered and the purity of the petitioner’s intention.)  All that it might take for the fisherman to answer could be one petitioner, but supposing that there were more than just one the fisherman would see the love that these petitions represent and would probably hasten to fulfill the good desire of so many people.  Beseeching the fisherman on behalf of the man is part of the fulfillment of the Christian obligation to love one another, and it is at least partly to instill in men love for one another that we are called to offer up prayers for others.  On this point, I would borrow an idea from Lewis’ apologetics and frame the question this way: “How much worse might a person’s suffering be without others praying on his behalf?  How much better might his condition be because others have prayed for him? ”  If the atheists’ grandmother is truly beloved, does Ms. Mac Donald think that this love is in vain?  Presumably not, or she would not have brought it up.  If it is not in vain, but is indeed truly love, how is it that God will ignore this beloved person, since all love comes from Him and participates in Him?  Will Ms. Mac Donald be grateful for this response?  I am somehow doubtful.

A cancer survivor would credit his survival to God out of humility and gratitude for having been spared a painful death and shortened life.  I literally cannot imagine anyone who gives thanks to God in such a case offering up this praise with the sense that he was saved because he was worthy.  In Christianity, at least, the presumption of wretchedness and unworthiness of all of God’s gifts is strong (this is one of those parts of the Faith that really grates on people, especially those who are pretty pleased with themselves and think that they would be worthy of God’s special attention) because of the recognition of two things: man is fallen and sinful and God is nonetheless merciful and does not treat us according to what we deserve.  If Thou shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, O Lord, who shall stand? (Ps. 130:3)  As Fr. Rutler once put it simply (I am paraphrasing a little), “The question is not why bad things happen to good people, for the Lord said, There is none good save My Father in heaven.  The question, then, is: why do good things happen to bad people?”  Secularists and atheists, and probably a few Christians, groan when they hear statements like this, not so much because they find the argument lacking but because they don’t like the implications.  The first implication is that we may not ever understand the reasons for why two people suffering from the same disease  have entirely different fates.  These people don’t like this because it means there are things they will never know, which reminds them of their finitude and limits.  The second is that God wills, or in this case permits, different things for different people according to their needs.  If one cancer patient lives and another dies, God has provided for both what is most fitting.  Does that make such a loss any easier to bear?  Often, no, it doesn’t, but it is nonetheless true.         

Was religious belief really the ground for Mr. Bush’s War?  It certainly suits some people to think so.  Nothing would satisfy secular conservatives, who made up the overwhelming majority of the policymakers and pundits who vociferously backed the war, more than to be able to pretend that this war was not the outcome of incompetent policy wonks pushing a senseless conflict based on poor assumptions about human nature, culture, history and politics that have more to do with Ms. Mac Donald’s beloved Enlightenment than with anything found in the Gospel.  Secular conservatives would love to be able to pin the war on religious conservatives, many of whom foolishly trusted the President and lent him their support out of a (misguided) sense of patriotism but almost all of whom had no role in the pushing, planning or execution of the war.  

This line of criticism is to treat Mr. Bush’s references to God giving the world freedom as the source and foundation of the drive to invade Iraq, when I propose that it was at best some platitudinous religious window dressing for what was an avowedly secular, revolutionary campaign that Mr. Bush justified precisely in terms of bringing the fruits of liberal modernity to the Near East.  That his policy instead produced mass theocracy and sectarianism is par for the course, but let us not confuse the undesired results for the goals of the administration.  Let us also not confuse the icing of saccharine religiosity for the cake of democratic revolutionarism and projecting U.S. power for what was supposed to be our hegemonic control of the region (that it turned out to advance Iran’s hegemonic control of the region is again par for the course). 

Ms. Mac Donald also said:

I need not rehearse here how Bush’s invocation of the divine gift of freedom overlooks the Bible, the persistence throughout history of hierarchical societies that have little use for personal autonomy, and the unique, centuries-long struggle in the West to create the institutions of limited government that underwrite our Western idea of freedom.

No, she need not, because I, benighted Christian that I am, had already said very much the same thing in protest against the foolish, unorthodox and dangerous idea that God bestows political freedom on humanity.

I haven’t seen the start of the new season of 24, but I am more than familiar with the nature of the show over its past five years.  In spite of everything that could be said against its insane worship of the Presidency (according to which, if the President authorises it, it is probably permissible to irradiate nursing homes or to drop a nuke on Denver–if it serves the cause of stopping the terrorists), its complete disregard for something we like to call “the law” and the complete implausibility of being able to routinely get across L.A. as easily as everyone in CTU does, it is fun to watch.  It is the action genre’s answer to campy romantic melodrama; it is the American equivalent of Bollywood pics dedicated to episodes of conflict with Pakistan and jihadis.  Unlike those, however, we are spared the sight of Paul Blackthorne’s Stephen Saunders singing to his daughter.  (Unlike most people appearing in 24, though, Paul Blackthorne has had experience with Bollywood, when he played the irremediably unpleasant British captain who challenged Aamir Khan’s villagers to a cricket match in Lagaan.)  

As in those fine Indian action films, the characters on 24 absurdly overplay family and office dramas that somehow manage to fit together with the efforts to prevent the impending disaster.  Noble Arab-American speechifying about being good citizens in season 4 brings to mind Akshay Kumar’s loyal Muslim copper in Sarfarosh.  Shadowy scenes of Geraint Wyn Davies’ Nathanson ordering various terrorist attacks in season 5 call forth, unbidden, memories of scenes of the beturbaned mastermind behind Mission: Kashmir.  The line between 24-ridiculous and hysterically bad is actually a very thin one, and one that the writers have not always stayed on the right side of.  Everyone knows how close it comes to being a really, really silly show, but it is as if we have all agreed to not mention this because, as with some of us and Bollywood, we just like it too much to dwell on the absurdity of it all.  Don’t spoil the fun–we want to see what Jack does next!  Should Amitabh Bachchan ever guest star in a future season (which would be marketing genius), the connection between the two will be complete.   

24 fans know the structure of a season pretty well by now.  In the beginning, there is the progress of a ho-hum, routine day suddenly broken up by some shocking event that only presages the coming string of threats.  This is followed by some terrorist plot or act that would, on its own, be sufficient to fill out a feature film that covers an entire week, but which must, for obvious reasons of time (of which Jack Bauer claims to never enough, but which always turns out to be just sufficient in the very end), be concluded in a matter of two or three hours.  In real time!  Then there are the ludicrous plot devices (e.g., the inevitable uncovering of yet another mole in CTU–don’t these people have any security checks?), and the inevitably tiresome dialogue (which is all too realistic in the constant re-explaining of the situation, such as when the New Guy has just come over from Division, which is 24’s equivalent of the Inferno).  Then you have the unavoidably cliche “we really don’t want to do this, but we have no choice” scenarios and the increasingly predicatble and de rigueur subplot involving the rulebook-following toady from Division who does virtually everything wrong for the entire season until he is forced by events to become an unlikely hero (the latest–Samwise, er, Sean Astin).  But in spite of all these things, we love our 24.  It is not because it is necessarily all that good or good for us, but because, like Bollywood, it is a complete flight of fantasy away from the real world in which we live. 

That world, for Americans, is largely so safe, dull and humdrum that we hungrily feed on the constant tension and action of 24 the way that hundreds of millions of unhappy Indians feed off of the bubblegum-pop happiness of a masala flick’s star-crossed lovers.  No one would actually want to live in the world that Jack Bauer inhabits, and happily no one does, but it is 24’s genius to make us think for at least one hour every week that we actually do live in that world and that the plots unfolding in front of us are realistic because they are happening in “real time.”  Fortunately for us, they are not realistic.  Unfortunately, many of 24’s biggest fans think that this is exactly what the real world is like.  This may explain why the policies preferred by the show’s loudest fans are not even as effective in the real world as the melodramatic romance of Bollywood is at creating the successful template for relationships between men and women. 

Rasmussen’s poll from early in January that gave Romney 29/35 fav/unfav ratings tells us a little about the composition of the people who view him unfavourably.  Among Republicans, he has decent 39/28 ratings, and among Democrats his numbers are predicatbly worse: 21/42.  Among independents and third party members (listed as “Other” under political party) the ratings are 28/35.  The 18-29 and 50-64 age groups are most likely to view him unfavourably (with 21/36 and 25/41 ratings respectively) and he does horribly with men overall: 34/44.  He doesn’t do terribly well with white voters (29/36), but for some reason black voters respond relatiely much better to him (41/33). 

He seems to have succeeded at getting just enough of a reputation as a social conservative to put off a lot of young, independent and Democratic voters while somehow managing to also alienate a lot of men and Boomers.  It’s just now the start of 2007, a third of likely voters still has yet to learn enough to know whether they like him or not, but he already has Hillaryesque unfavourables.  As of right now, he is the only one of the Terrible Trio of leading GOP candidates projected to lose to all possible Democratic nominees.  If these numbers have any meaning (which, at this point, they may not), Romney had better hope for a Vilsack nomination, since that is the only one that’s even close.   

Thus does the left casually open the door to the baldest sort of bigotry, a first cousin of the anti-Catholicism thought buried in 1960, or the anti-Semitism that continues to plague Europe and of course the Middle East. The not-so-deft substitution of “religious heritage” for “religion” is supposed, I guess, to protect Jews willing to abandon the outward display of their faith, but for anyone believing in the miraculous of any sort, well, those days of the great tolerance in American politics are over. ~Hugh Hewitt

Yes, Hewitt, if someone thinks that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is a reason not to support his candidacy, he is practically just one step removed from joining the Klan (that would be the anti-Catholicism) or perhaps Hamas (that would be the anti-Semitism).  That’s not an absurd thing to say at all!

There is no doubt that Weisberg doesn’t like anyone who actually believes what his religion teaches and takes it seriously.  He doesn’t trust people like that.  That’s just about what you would expect from someone like him.  But do the 53% of evangelicals who say they will never consider voting for a Mormon for President listen to Jacob Weisberg?  Are their reasons the same as his?  Well, yes and no.  All of them are opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate because they believe he believes things that are plainly false.  They are judging by different standards, and where Weisberg’s test would exclude anyone who believes in claims of revealed religion as actually true theirs would effectively reject anyone who does not believe as they do in Jesus Christ.  

Incidentally, it was precisely this bias in favour of a fellow evangelical that rallied evangelicals behind Mr. Bush.  Identity politics of this sort is not exactly an attractive feature of mass democracy, but it is a central and abiding feature.  Those who actually believe that democracy is the best form of government (I certainly don’t) have absolutely no business complaining when their beloved democratic process is simply working as it always has.  After cheering on the bestowal of the great gift of “democracy” on Iraq, now it turns out that Hewitt doesn’t like this particular expression of the popular will.  Rather than face up to the potential evils of democracy that make it possible for identity politics to dominate all other considerations and shut out ostensibly qualified candidates, Hewitt cries about bigotry, yet the very nature of all democratic identitarianism involves the mobilisation and politicisation of prejudice.  All candidates in democratic elections try to show that they are ”like you” and that they represent you, and they want you to identify with them and to see them as a symbol of your hopes and aspirations.  Romney is trying to play this game in a lame, late-in-the-day attempt to prove that he is really “one of us” as far as social conservatism goes, but what his supporters don’t seem to appreciate is that a whole lot of Christian conservatives don’t think of him as ”one of us” because they cannot even accept that he is really a Christian.  If a Muslim, Jew, Sikh or Hindu, or any other non-Christian, ran for the Republican nomination, he would assuredly meet with the same icy reception.  For Hewitt to be loudly complaining about anti-Mormon prejudice, he has to pretend that most evangelicals, whose interests and “values” he often purports to defend, do not fundamentally agree with Weisberg’s rejection of the “founding whoppers” of Mormonism.  That Weisberg’s critique involves far more than that and is a general assault on the role of serious religious believers in public life is for the moment beside the point.  The point is that the problem Hewitt has with Weisberg is one that he would inevitably have to have with a huge percentage of evangelical voters.  Ultimately, Weisberg’s opposition will be neither here nor there.  If he and Damon Linker were the only ones who found Mormonism to be a problem for Romney’s candidacy, it would be irrelevant to Romney’s chances and to the rest of society.  Of course, they are not the only ones.  It is huge numbers of voters, both evangelical and otherwise, who also agree that it is a problem, indeed a dealbreaker, and it is they who will be the ones deciding the issue just as it was decided in 1928.  Unlike 1928, though, Gov. Romney will not even get the nomination.     

What Hewitt laments as bigotry would be what a reasonable observer would call the workings of the much-vaunted freedom and democracy in these here United States.  Ever notice how quickly the greatest enthusiasts for both of these modern god-words abandon their commitment to them when they become inconvenient?  Notice how Republicans are the first to start whining about intolerance when it is their ox that is being gored?  Perhaps it ought to be the case that left-liberals should practice tolerance towards all as they demand that everyone else does, but once you recognise that “tolerance” is a tool and a weapon in the hands of the left to dismantle the traditions and authorities that they despise you begin to understand that it was never a legitimate or desirable principle in the first place.  It was always a deception aimed at the exclusion of left-liberals’ enemies from power and influence in society.  It is suicidal for someone on the right to invoke it in the defense of religious conservatives or to use it as a bludgeon to shame religious conservatives into supporting his preferred candidate (Hewitt might as well have said to his conservative audience, “If you don’t vote for Romney, you are also a bigot.”).

Hewitt calls us all to solidarity with Mormons with rhetoric as treacly as anything on offer from the ADL:

Weisberg’s attack on Romney is exactly the sort of attack on other Christians and believers in the miraculous that the secular left would love to make routine. To mainstream Protestants and Mass-attending Catholics, the virtual mob against Romney because of his LDS faith may seem like someone else’s problem, but it is really another step down the road toward the naked public square. Legitimizing bigotry by refusing to condemn it invites not only its repetition, but its spread to new targets.  

In every pro-Romney article that I have read, everyone reaches for the Kennedy comparison, usually followed by a “I thought we had left all of this behind” and an inevitable, “Never again!”  Now the Niemoelleresque Hewitt warns us, “First they came for the Mormons…”  But no one is coming for them.  No one is doing anything to them.  A very few people are writing (critical) columns about Mormonism, and other people are going to withhold their vote from a Mormon candidate.  Never have “oppression” and “bigotry” been so passive and unremarkable.  But we are supposed to believe that this is the “first step” towards a naked public square.  But the public square was stripped down years ago, and it is only in the last 25-30 years that the attempt to cover it up with any sort of decent clothing has been underway.  Who forms the beating heart of the religious conservatives who most wish to “clothe” the public square in a mantle of righteousness, so to speak?  Obviously, it is the evangelicals.  Who also make up one of the most openly and intensely anti-Mormon groups in the country?  Again, evangelical Protestants.  The Christian people who are against Romney’s Mormonism are precisely the people who want a fully-dressed public square with the clothing options provided by their own tailor.  Like it or not, there are limits to what kind of generic religiosity such people want to promote in public life.  Religions that appear to these Christians to be clearly non-Christian or, at best, wildly heterodox are not going to qualify as part of the clothing of the public square.  You will not be able to scare these people with threats of galloping secularism, because they are already convinced that galloping secularism is here.  They are also probably convincced that the last thing they need to fight secularism is to support a candidate who doesn’t even believe in the same God as they do.  That is what this entire controversy is all about. 

For the actual believers we’re talking about, who are not to be confused with any vague “believers in the miraculous,” but who are people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord, are these people supposed to believe that it will be pleasing to God to elect a non-Christian?  Matched against that far more basic concern, Hewitt’s pleas for tolerance and his long-term fears of providing a precedent for future secularist intolerance (which is a rather silly thing to worry about, since they don’t need precedents, as they make up the rules as they go) appear pretty weak and pathetic.

Watching Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which finally hit the shelves this week on DVD, I couldn’t help noticing its uncanny resemblance to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Sure, Idiocracy is a low comedy, full of kicks to the groin and monster-truck rallies, while Children of Men is a serious dramatic thriller about the extinction of humanity. But both movies are chilling visions of a future dystopia extrapolated, with pitiless logic, from our current moment. Both feature a reluctant hero (Clive Owen in Children of Men, Luke Wilson in Idiocracy) who’s jolted from his depressive complacency and asked to save the planet from destruction. And both posit human reproduction (or the lack of it) as the problem that threatens the future of the human race. 

One other commonality: Both movies were scandalously underpromoted by the studios releasing them. Judge’s film sat on a shelf for two years at Fox before being hacked down to its current 84-minute running time and dumped, unadvertised, into only a few cities on the slowest movie weekend of the year. Children of Men’s fate has been slightly less ignominious; it was released nationwide, largely untrumpeted, on Christmas Day, and only this week, after countless critics (including me) put the movie on their 10-best lists, has Universal rushed to mount a too-little-too-late push for Oscar consideration.

The burial of Children of Men was lame, but comprehensible. Figuring that few viewers would flock to such an unremitting downer of a film, Universal must have decided to market the movie modestly, hoping at least to break even with attention from art-house audiences. But Fox’s choice to withhold Idiocracy even from the markets where it was most likely to find cult viewers—New York? San Francisco?—and to eschew all advertising is simply bewildering. The shrouding of Idiocracy in what amounts to a marketing burqa is especially ironic given that the film’s most pointed satire is aimed at the ubiquity of advertising in American life. ~Dana Stevens

On Children of Men, I think Ms. Stevens gives the studio too much credit.  It isn’t just that the movie is an “unremitting downer of a film” (some might say that Schindler’s List is something of a downer, too, but that didn’t stop the studio from promoting it like crazy), but that it is a downer with an obvious but decidedly uncomfortable message for the wine-and-cheese set: if every couple in this country had only one child or had no children, the future for our people would be just as bleak as it is for all of the people in Children of Men.  Natalists immediately saw the potential significance of the movie as something that would dramatise their arguments for them.  I suspect that it received such pitiful studio support because it might make natalism the respectable, sane option in the same way that dystopian stories of totalitarianism have made various forms of anti-statism the obvious alternative.  However, as we all know, natalism is the preserve of fundamentalists and fascists and therefore forever off limits to respectable people, or so some people would tell you.

The reason for the opposition to Idiocracy is more obvious: it was not acceptable, even as a big joke, to tell a story about the dysgenic results of the ever-declining average intelligence of humanity achieved through the prolific breeding of morons.  You can’t even talk about that without some penalty, much less put it on screen!  (Here’s Reihan’s old review of Idiocracy.)  Before it’s all over, Ms. Stevens must also register her own disapproval:

Ultimately, Children of Men’s vision of the future is more inclusive, and kinder, than Idiocracy’s. Judge’s gimlet eye is so ruthless that at times his politics seem to border on South Park libertarianism—a philosophy that, as has often been observed about South Park, can flirt with the reactionary. And there’s more than a little classism in Idiocracy’s fear that the dumb—here pictured as trailer-park trash and fast-food-swilling losers—will inherit the earth. Would we be better off in a world in which the brittle, infertile yuppies shown in the movie’s opening moments had populated the earth with their spawn?

That’s right: the movie that depicts the near-extinction of mankind is “kinder” than Idiocracy.  Ms. Stevens is pulling out all the stops: it’s libertarian! it’s like South Park! reactionary! classist!  (I confess that I have never before seen the word “classism,” but in our age of race-class-gender studies, we would have to have classism to go with racism and–coming soon–genderism to accommodate all the transgendered out there.)  The answer to her question is pretty clearly yes.  The idea behind the movie is that the world would be better off if those yuppies at least managed to reproduce at replacement levels.  That is what frightens the studios.  Here’s a possible reason: studios are having a hard enough time getting people to go to movie theatres in an age of Netflix, DVDs and, soon, the iPhone, so the last thing they can afford is for their childless, moviegoing audience to get crazy ideas about having large families that will consume more and more of their time and leave them fewer occasions to go to the cinema.  Therefore all movies that might encourage middle-class professionals to start having more children must be kept out of sight for as long as possible.  What do you think? 

Andrew Sullivan has another one of his tiresome “Vive La Resistance” posts, this time (indirectly) citing Ms. Mac Donald’s interview with Razib when she is at her most petulant.  For her part, like Sullivan, Ms. Mac Donald sometimes likes to target a faceless “them” who manage to embody every flaw that she perceives in religious conservatives.  First, here’s Mac Donald:

In the American Conservative piece I wanted to offer some resistance to the assumption of conservative religious unanimity. I tried to point out that conservatism has no necessary relation to religious belief, and that rational thought, not revelation, is all that is required to arrive at the fundamental conservative principles of personal responsibility and the rule of law. I find it depressing that every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design, while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment. Which of the astounding fruits of empiricism would these Enlightenment-bashers dispense with: the conquest of cholera and other infectious diseases, emergency room medicine, jet travel, or the internet, to name just a handful of the millions of human triumphs that we take for granted?

But no one assumes “conservative religious unanimity.”  Just as Sullivan fabricates his enemy, the “fundamentalists,” to match his preoccupations, Ms. Mac Donald imagines that there is such a thing as an “assumption of conservative religious unanimity,” which helps her defend the position that she is defending ”reason and realism” against superstitious yobs.  In a spirit similar to that Sullivan’s own incensed attack on “fundamentalism” and his claim that this mythical ”fundamentalism” is taking over and displacing American conservatism (which is far more ludicrous than Ms. Mac Donald’s more modest critiques), Ms. Mac Donald gives the impression that she is doggedly fighting against the overwhelming religiosity of modern conservatism.  As I have argued earlier today, this overwhelming religiosity is not nearly as great as she makes it out to be. 

I should say that if conservatism were governed by the truths of Christianity and leavened by the wisdom of the Fathers, I think it would generally be all to the benefit of conservatism.  The alternatives have always been an acquiescence in false Enlightenment liberal understandings of human nature and society or an acceptance of the Christian understanding that man is fallen (but capable of virtue) and in need of good order and the conservative wisdom that social organisation arises from inherited customs and structures and not from contract or consent.  When conservatives belittle the Enlightenment, it is normally the social and political theories of the more radical French thinkers that they are targeting, but they are in any case objecting for the most part to false understandings of the origin of society, how polities arise and function and what the rightful sources of legitimacy and authority are.  They object to a distorted understanding of the human person and a tendency of many Enlightenment thinkers to be hostile to rooted, traditional society and its numerous institutions and customs.  They do not reject scientific method, nor do they even necessarily hold an empiricist epistemology in low esteem.  The suggestion that they reject “empiricism” entirely, and the implication that most conservatives form a mass of hidebound ignoramuses who would abandon all scientific advances are both false.  

The strangest part of this charge is the connection between the Enlightenment and, for example, “the conquest of cholera,” since the major thinkers of the Enlightenment did not cure cholera and were not even close to understanding vaccination or many of the principles of public sanitation and hygiene that helped contain outbreaks.  There were still cholera epidemics in the 19th century, many of them in the filthy, overcrowded cities of the industrial era brought to us by technological progress.  In any case, what good, one might ask, did Voltaire’s contempt for Christianity do for people dying of cholera?  That is the part of the Enlightenment that we take pots shot at most of the time, so perhaps it is no wonder that Ms. Mac Donald defends it, but what does that have to do the advance of medical and technological sciences?  Is there a new psychosomatic cure for disease achieved not through prayer, but through mocking God?  Ms. Mac Donald refers to “empiricism,” whence come all these astounding fruits.  Now suppose that we find Leibniz’s “innate ideas” more compelling and more consistent with modern neuroscience than Locke’s tabula rasa?  Do we at least get credit for not rejecting Leibniz’s differential calculus?   

Ms. Mac Donald says that she finds it “depressing” that “every organ of conservative opinion reflexively cheers on creationism and intelligent design while delivering snide pot shots at the Enlightenment.”  But this is simply untrue.  No major conservative magazine “cheers on creationism” as such, much less do they do so “reflexively.”  I have yet to encounter a serious conservative writer or scholar who accepts the Young Earth thesis.  These people do not exist.  There are conservative people writing online who believe this, and there are even academics who believe it, but those aren’t the people Ms. Mac Donald was referring to. 

On ID, National Review has no formal position, and they certainly don’t “cheer” on creationism.  With respect to ID, they have entertained arguments from both sides, but that is hardly “cheering” anything on.  At least one of their more prominent contributors in John Derbyshire has made it his business to basically single-handedly crush Intelligent Design’s pretensions to being science.  It was not a difficult task, and he succeeded quite well.  I am as much of a Counter-Enlightenment man today as you are likely to find under the age of 30, and I have ridiculed ID’s claims to being science on several occasions.  That’s because it isn’t science.  Amusingly, two of the main proponents of this intellectual swindle are none other than the grand old man of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, and the grand dame Gertrude Himmelfarb, as Derbyshire noted last year.  As Derbyshire observed, their boosting of ID as science is entirely cynical and aimed at placating some religious conservatives.  That is hardly evidence of galloping religiosity in “every organ of conservative opinion.”  

I should note that I do not ridicule the possibility of understanding some of the claims of ID as a legitimate philosophical view on the orderliness of the universe and the implications this has for the existence of God, but that is not what ID proponents want when they push for recognition of their “theory.”  ID advocates are people who accept everything about the theory of evolution except the mythology woven around it; in place of that mythology, they would like to posit a different story, equally unproven and unproveable, for perhaps well-intentioned reasons that end up being nonetheless rather silly.  But Ms. Mac Donald might have more in common with ID proponents than she thinks, though, since they, too, enjoy playing the wounded, oppressed victim fighting against a hostile and arrogant establishment. 

As for taking pot shots at the Enlightenment, there isn’t that much of that going around these days.  More’s the pity.  I am fairly sure that I have made myself obnoxious to many movement conservatives because I go out of my way to disparage and ridicule certain assumptions of Locke and some of the more high-flown claims of the Declaration of Independence.  I take snide pot shots at the Enlightenment, but I never cheer on creationism and ID.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.  Do I start by pretending that carbon dating doesn’t exist, or do I start by pretending that saying, “God did it” serves as an acceptable hypothesis?  Neither does my blog constitute much of an “organ of conservative opinion,” though I suppose it is a small one of sorts.  

Anyway, lately it has not been the case that conservatives have been too hard on the Enlightenment–many have rather become its latter-day cheerleaders as a sort of cultural one-upsmanship vis-a-vis Islam.  The Weekly Standard has not, to my knowledge, ever made a snide remark about the Enlightenment.  If they have, it would have to have been rare or fairly mildWhat about American Spectator?  We could inquire, but I am fairly confident that the only place where you might conceivably find respectful consideration of creation science is in a publication like World, and I’m probably not being fair to them when I say that.  Did American Conservative have a big “Yes, The Earth Is Only 4,004 Years Old” editorial and I missed it?  Of course not. 

This is because it is entirely possible to accept that God created everything without having to insist upon the absolute literal interpretation of every number (many of which are clearly symbolic in any case) in the Bible.  It is also possible to accept that God created all living things while also acknowledging that evolution is a plausible explanation for how living beings change over time.  It is possible to despise Voltaire as an impious fool and loathe Locke as a treacherous stockjobbing mountebank and to view their ideas with disdain without insisting that we live in caves and eat raw meat while dying of the plague.

Since no one has yet offered me a large pot full of treasures that would keep me otherwise occupied, I thought I would point readers to an interesting article (via Razib) about the Alevi sect in Turkey.  This is one of the many sects that fill the fissiparous and wildly diverse universe of Shi’ism.  Somewhat like the Druze, they have roots in Shi’ism, but have developed into an entirely different religious group.

Speaking of fairly obscure Near Eastern sects, I was introduced indirectly to the existence of a small religious minority in Armenia through reading the beginning of Namus, one of the works of Armenian author Alexander ShirvanzadeNamus, as I have discovered, is a Mediterranean and Near Eastern code of honour, and would seem to form part of the Pashtuns’ pushtunwali surveyed by The Economist late last year. 

What was the obscure sect I discovered?  The Malakans (as transliterated from Armenian) or Molokans (as transliterated from Russian).  Not to be outdone by anyone else, the Molokans have their own webpage.  From what I have been able to learn about them so far, you could not find people less likely to follow anything remotely resembling pushtunwali than the Malakans, who appear to be the very embodiment of meekness and longsuffering. 

Relating this to some current events here in America, I would note that Molokans apparently also were supposed to have had a tradition of plural marriage at some point and were either pejoratively identified or otherwise associated with Mormons in the 19th century.  According to a 1993 New York Times article, the Molokans “comprise a rather late Russian sect that emerged at the close of the 18th century.”

The article continues:

Like other anti-clerical movements in Russia and in Europe, Molokan preachers focused on immediate personal contacts with God, refuting ritual and reverence for saints and icons as idolatry. They recognize as the sole fountainhead of truth the Holy Scriptures, emphasizing that both Old and New Testaments are to be viewed metaphorically not dogmatically.

Basic is meeting for prayer which reduce to hymn singing and the joint reading and interpretation of Scriptural texts. There is no hierarchy, with the congregations chaired by an Elder, usually one of the older and better educated members of the community. They resemble more the western Quakers and Baptists.

Apparently, along with other dissident sects, the Molokans were resettled in the Caucasus under Nicholas I.  This is presumably how they entered into the history of Armenia.

Update: Somehow I forgot to mention this earlier.  There is also a movie called Namus, which is based on Shirvanzade’s story.  There is now a restored version available.  From what I have heard about the story’s melodrama, it sounds as if it will be Armenia’s answer to a Bollywood plot.  Unfortunately, it is a silent film, so there won’t be any big song-and-dance numbers.

Razib’s Q&A with Heather Mac Donald deserves an extended treatment, so, as promised Saturday, I will try to start to tackle the most interesting and vexing parts of Ms. Mac Donald’s answers.  For those interested, Razib also has a new post on response to the interview.  If time permits, I’ll make a few remarks about that one, too.  I’ll take the interview questions in order, stopping along the way to comment.  Here is the first question and part of the first answer:

1) Okay, I’ll get this out of the way.  What prompted you to “come out” as an atheist in The American Conservative earlier this year?  A friend of mine suggested that you might have become frustrated with the lack of a “reality-based” conservatism during this administration, in particular in its attitude toward immigration.  Is he going down the right track? 

I wrote The American Conservative piece out of frustration with the preening piety of conservative pundits. I attended a New York cocktail party in 2003, for example, where a prominent columnist said to the group standing around him: “We all know that what makes Republicans superior to Democrats is their religious faith.” This sentiment has been repeated in print ad nauseam, along with its twin: “We all know that morality is not possible without religion.” I didn’t then have the courage to point out to the prominent columnist that quite a few conservatives and Republicans of the highest standing had no religious faith, without apparent injury to their principles or their behavior.

I can certainly understand Ms. Mac Donald’s frustration with conservative pundits’ “preening piety,” but I’d like to remind readers of a couple of things about the original article she wrote for TAC.  As I have said before, the article was part of a symposium asking what liberal and conservative and Left and Right meant, so straightaway the article’s focus on the folly of religion and its complaint that skeptical, non-religious conservatives were being somehow marginalised or culturally threatened by all of the God-talk struck this reader as odd and out of place.  However, I’m glad TAC ran the piece and provided a forum for Ms. Mac Donald to air her grievance against religion and religious conservatives, if only as a way of showing that a conservative operation full of religious conservatives was willing to entertain a variety of perspectives and to confirm that skeptical conservatives are really not the put-upon victims among conservatives that Ms. Mac Donald made them out to be.  Back then the impression one got was not that “quite a few conservatives and Republicans of high standing” had no religious faith but were nonetheless principled and decent and able to work side by side with religious conservatives, but that the religiosity overtaking conservatism was putting some sort of stranglehold on these skeptics and non-believers.  Back in August she wrote:

Skeptical conservatives—one of the Right’s less celebrated subcultures—are conservatives because of their skepticism, not in spite of it. They ground their ideas in rational thinking and (nonreligious) moral argument. And the conservative movement is crippling itself by leaning too heavily on religion to the exclusion of these temperamentally compatible allies.   

But there was, is, no exclusion going on.  To see all of the articles and books published in the last few months blaming the woes of the GOP and conservatism on religious conservatives, one might conclude that it was the religious conservatives who ought to be worried about exclusion.  Following the publication of this article, not only did virtually everyone and his brother at NR fall all over themselves to be nice and accommodating to Ms. Mac Donald, whom they showered with so many compliments that it became embarrassing for everyone watching, but we were soon reminded of the rather large number of NROniks who were themselves either confirmed skeptics or very unorthodox sorts of Christians.  The debate was not as much between the zealous believers and the atheist, but between the moderately respectful and the intensely disrespectful. 

The large number of skeptics and unorthodox folk there is not in itself necessarily a problem for conservatives (though I think it probably depends on how unorthodox the unorthodox are willing to be), or at least it isn’t a new problem if it is one (the honour roll in The Conservative Mind is a veritable Who’s Who of skeptics, heretics and eccentrics).  Still, it goes a long way towards showing that the representatives of what it still (sigh) the flagship of “the movement” are not heavily leaning on religion to the exclusion of anybody.  Some of them aren’t doing any leaning at all, while the Catholics there are presumably believers, but they are by and large believers who tend to advance, for example, pro-life arguments in terms that reasonable skeptical conservatives could appreciate.  Indeed, this is not just the case at NR.  The pro-life movement’s own use of the rhetoric of “the right to life” should remind us that, while it is Christianity that motivates so many pro-lifers, they nonetheless retreat back to precisely the rights-centric language of Enlightenment liberalism to make their arguments for the defense of the unborn.  I certainly do not say this as a compliment to the pro-life movement, but this is the way it is.  Because these people do believe in God, they also mention God, but it is the appeal to protecting human rights that is doing all of the work in their arguments.  Perhaps this is a politically clever approach, or perhaps not, but what it isn’t is an example of conservatives “leaning heavily” on religion.  If you can’t even find such a habit among pro-lifers, where will you find it?  

To say that today’s conservative movement leans too heavily on religion, one must have a rather expansive and odd definition of what religion is.  It is possible to find extreme, actually rather isolated incidents of what we might take to be religious enthusiasm sweeping the conservative world and the GOP.  The dreadful Schiavo imbroglio might be considered such a one.  Arguably, though, that affair was the result of an absolute abstract commitment to the Right to Life that was so intense that it actually became impious and contradicted a Christian understanding of the purpose of human life, namely salvation in Christ, making it an episode of impious ideological excess.  It was a classic example of what happens when decent people are given simple ideological maxims: they go too far and commit injustice.  It is possible to see this episode, usually taken as a glaring example of religious conservatism’s supposed power within the GOP, as an episode where a galivanting, do-gooding rights-based liberalism generated hysterical overreaction among activists who pushed for government interference in the private affairs of a family.  But even if we accept that this really was a case of a religious impulse dominating the conservative movement, it is the relative rarity of these sorts of episodes that tells me that religion does not usually have too much hold on the modern conservative movement and that conservatives do not usually “lean” very heavily on the claims of revelation at all.  Rather, if anything, religion has not had enough of a hold.  As a theocrat of sorts (very different from a theocon, mind you!), I might be expected to say this.  As an inveterate critic of Andrew Sullivan and his dreadful book, I might be expected to say this.  But I say it for what I think are a couple good reasons. 

First, religion, more specifically traditional Christianity (which is almost entirely what we’re talking about when we speak of religion and conservatism in America), does not function as a crutch of the modern conservative movement, but all too often the movement uses it (or in some cases the weasel word “values”) as a rallying flag when it has run out of anything else interesting to say.  That is an important distinction.  Appeal to religion is the last resort of “the movement” and not one of its dominant aspects.  Second, for the last 25 years most mainstream conservative argument has fallen into four categories, only one of which can fairly be linked to religion, which are 1) social scientific arguments about the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of government policy and/or about causes behind patterns of social behaviour; 2) arguments written in defense of Western history, culture and “values,” usually “Judeo-Christian values” (under which dubious heading the great religion of our civilisation is filed away); 3) polemics against the stupidity, hypocrisy, elitism or “real” racism of the left, the academy, the government, the media, etc.; 4) arguments about dire foreign threats that “we,” the conservatives, “get” and the daffy liberals and Europeans do not (such as Venezuela!).  You can find arguments that fit more than one of these and some that fit none, but you will be surprised to find just how few conservative essays and articles have much to say about religion, revelation or God except in the most superficial or boilerplate ways. 

Specifically religious journals, such as First Things, will obviously have a very dense concentration of arguments tied very closely to, if not completely enmeshed in, a religious worldview, but in most other journals of conservative opinion and most other conservative columns you won’t find a lot of conservative writers “leaning heavily” on religion for much of anything.  All too often, when they do feel obliged to bring it up, the arguments go something like this: “We have capitalism because of Christianity” (in other words, you should respect Christianity because it helped make us fairly wealthy as a people) or “we have liberal democracy partly because of Christian respect for the person” or “we have the separation of church and state because of Christ’s teaching” (which can be among the worst, since it is usually an argument that calls Christianity as a witness for the defense of the superiority of the secular modern West, whose superiority is affirmed precisely in its capacity for secularism and pushing religion out of public life) and so on. 

These tend to be historical arguments, and they often can have some real merit as historical arguments, but they all fall under the category of “Christianity has done you Westerners a lot of good, so maybe you should give it a break now and then.”  You know the drill, repeated ad nauseam whenever the secularist and atheists come knocking: “Christianity inspired the abolitionists!  Christianity inspired Rev. King.  See–we’re not crazy religious wackos (like the abolitionists were)!”  This is usually a plea from the lukewarm to the indifferent and potentially hostile to acknowledge that Christianity may or may not be true, but that it nonetheless has served and will continue to serve a social function and, in the context of other debates, that its involvement in political life is not necessarily harmful.  This emphasis on the social utility and functionality of religion (both of which the NROniks cited repeatedly contra Mac Donald last fall) to the exclusion and detriment of interest in revealed religion’s substantive truth-claims has become, if anything, more common since the neoconservative ascendancy began and brought with it the habits and methods of the social sciences. 

It is in the context of these arguments about the social function of “religion” that the remarks Ms. Mac Donald recounts in her opening anecdote should be understood.  For the millionth time, yes, it is possible for nonbelievers to live what most people would regard as a “moral” and upstanding life; atheists presumably can have successful marriages and they probably even love their mothers.  When people speak of the necessity of religion for the maintenance of morality, they are almost always speaking of public morality and order, and they see religion as a necessary and well-tested support for these things.  I would go further and say that it is not really possible to live a truly virtuous life without entering into union with the God who was incarnate for our sake, but the people Ms. Mac Donald met at her cocktail party were not saying this, nor would they agree with it if I presented it to them.  “That’s some kind of crazy theological argument, “they would say to me,” and that has nothing to do with conservatism.”  Specifically theological arguments do not interest many conservatives very much, and most avoid referring to them or using them if they can possibly help it.  Even for the theocons, it is natural law teaching within Western Christian theological tradition that gets most of the attention because it is presumed to be “accessible” and intelligible by anyone who can reason.  That in and of itself would be fine, but this move has been seen as absolutely necessary to even begin to draw on our Christian inheritance to make arguments about public policy or social problems to which the wider public and most conservatives would pay much heed. 

This history is not, to my mind, evidence of a heavy reliance on the truth claims of Christian revelation to advance or define conservatism.  What I have repeatedly found, much to my agitation, is a decided indifference to the actual substance of much of our Christian inheritance that goes beyond the mere “patina” of pious nonsensical mumblings about God creating all men equal (today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so we should pay our respects to the Dream, shouldn’t we?) or Mr. Bush’s idea, which is at once both silly and dangerous, that political freedom is God’s gift to man.  Unless conservatives can find some way to tie Christianity in to the goods that most of “the movement” is today in the business of promoting (i.e., capitalism and democracy), they often will not say much, or at least nothing so terribly religiously inspired that it would make a skeptic bat an eye.  When religion, and here again we almost always mean Christianity, has taken center stage in conservative arguments, it is usually as the violated plaintiff outraged by some PC diktat, revisionist history or public criticism by, well, someone like Ms. Mac Donald.  In these cases, conservatives will once again defend Christianity with old liberal appeals to freedom of religion or will mitigate claims about alleged past Christian fanaticism by saying, “Yes, Christianity used to have a terrible history, but out of its internecine conflicts the Enlightenment was born and helped to reform and fix all of the unfortunate elements.”  In other words, these folks are saying, “Look, we find a lot of Christian history to be nearly as embarrassing as you do, but you should realise that we’ve become so much more respectably milquetoast and inoffensive in the last few centuries, we now embrace classical liberalism with gusto, and we do charity work!”  Most of the ringing defenses of the West setting it over and against the Islamic world possess an undercurrent of skepticism that says, “Unlike the Muslims, we learned to stop talking our religion very seriously a long time ago, and we’re all much better off for it–but, of course, we still have the fight the godless liberals in the War on Christmas.”  When Cal Thomas started singing the praises of secular modernity after 9/11 (as if to show you that he was no religious fanatic like those people), you could take it as a given that religion, and specifically the great significance attached to Christianity even by some old Moral Majority hands like Thomas, was potentially expendable for a lot of conservatives when supposedly more important things (such as the fight against “medievalism” and for “women’s rights” and “tolerance”) were at stake.  In the end, I don’t see that much modern conservative reliance on religion.  The “movement” certainly relies on religious people to keep it running with their support, financial and otherwise, and to that end they have to say nice things about the value of religion now and again (and I assume most honestly believe these things when they say them), but do they “lean heavily” on religion “to the exclusion” of nonbelievers?  Quite simply, no, they don’t.

Is this man not an utter nutcase, a dangerous nutcase. After all, he is the leader of a quarter of a million Muslims in Australia.

How did the Labor prime minister, John Howard, react? “He played down the seriousness of recent statements made by the clergymen, describing it as a mere joke.” That’s perfectly clear although it comes from the garbled translation.

Will some of you out there concoct of a negotiating plan for dealing with this man? ~Marty Peretz

While The Plank offers some interesting commentary from time to time and  occasionally even some real humour, The Spine, TNR editor Marty Peretz’s blog, seems to offer nothing but the blogging equivalent of nails across a chalkboard.  I almost never look at it, but this evening I saw the title of the latest post, “Exposed Meat,” assumed (correctly) it referred to the Muslim cleric in Australia who referred in a rather unflattering way to unveiled Australian women and went on to read it.  I thought to myself: “Let’s see what he has to say about this one.”  I would have said that it was a surprise that the post was an error-ridden, poorly-written jumble, but then I remembered that this is Marty Peretz we’re talking about.  Quick, Marty, use ultramontane in a sentence

For the record, Mr. Peretz, Howard is the Liberal Prime Minister of Australia.  The Liberal Party is Australia’s center-right governing party and their closest equivalent, to put it in American terms, to the GOP (no offense intended to any of our Liberal Party friends).  The Australian Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd, has a less-than-flattering picture of PM Howard on its main page that would have told Mr. Peretz after about ten seconds of research that John Howard was not a Laborite. 

In response to this, I hereby announce Larison’s Second Law Of Foreign Policy Commentary (see the First Law): If you do not know the basic political landscape of another country (i.e., which party is which, whether it is a republic or a kingdom, etc.), you are unqualified to comment on anything related to that country’s politics.

(It’s also the case that the anti-Semitism of some on the Right who were critical of the war we were headed into in 2002 enabled many of us to dismiss all of their arguments). ~Rod Dreher

I will get to responding to this in a minute.  First, some background to the post quoted above.  Rod has taken a lot of heat lately because of his recent essay on NPR’s All Things Considered.  In it, he expressed his disillusionment with the war and also with Mr. Bush and the GOP when Republican competence, which was something he had taken for granted because of past experience, completely vanished in the last several years.  For someone who had come around to the idea that the GOP was the party of serious foreign policy, the execution of the Iraq war proved particularly shocking and discouraging.  

The responses have been coming in since then.  First there was Goldberg responding with the usual ignorance and snide remarks, and then there were true lunatics like this guy.  At the same time, Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald took an interest.  This debate has prompted more posts and some reader feedback to Rod, which prompted the post from which the above quote was taken.  Now, to the response. 

In the oral essay, Rod said:

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool’s errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool. In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did. 

In this post he wrote:

(It’s also the case that the anti-Semitism of some on the Right who were critical of the war we were headed into in 2002 enabled many of us to dismiss all of their arguments).

In other words, as I read these separate posts, Rod thought the conservative opponents of the war in 2002 to be unpatriotic and has since been proven wrong.  Yet in the later post he refers to the supposed anti-Semitism of a nebulous “some on the Right who were critical of the war” (who are we talking about?) as if that equally baseless, equally offensive charge had some merit to it such that it bore mentioning in the context of explaining why he and others had ignored some of the battier opponents of the war.  What exactly constituted this supposed anti-Semitism?  Who among the targeted “unpatriotic conservatives” was guilty of it, and who wasn’t?  Is it not the case that this supposed anti-Semitism was just as imaginary as the claims of paleoconservatives’ lack of patriotism?  Might it be that this “anti-Semitism” consisted of nothing more than criticism of the State of Israel, much as paleos’ supposed lack of patriotism consisted of criticism of the U.S. government and the government’s foreign policy?  In other words, weren’t a number of the charges directed at conservative opponents of the Iraq invasion the result of a commonplace nationalist confusion of the people of a country and their government according to which criticism of the latter was taken as hatred of the former?     

Something doesn’t add up.  On the one hand, there is what Rod said on NPR and wrote earlier this month and on the other what he wrote in this more recent post.  Some clarification would be very much appreciated.  Let me explain why I think this is important. 

First, let’s recap who the opposition on the Right was in 2002-03.  Most of the people on the Right warning against the invasion of Iraq on moral (the war would be unjust), historical (it would end badly; an alien culture would not be transformed), philosophical (conservatives ought to be more prone to oppose war than support it), patriotic (it wasn’t our war to fight) and even strategic (it would severely damage American and allied interests in the region and around the world) grounds fell into three broad categories: paleoconservatives, libertarians of various stripes and a relative handful of foreign policy realists.  There was some overlap between these groups (e.g., there were some realists who were also libertarians) and these people tended to move in the same circles anyway, but that was the conservative opposition, c. 2002.  

As readers of Eunomia are well aware,  National Review by way of David Frum denounced leading figures from at least two of the aforementioned groups, erroneously lumping them all together as paleoconservatives, labeling them and, by extension, everyone who agreed with them (including me and probably quite a few of the regular readers of this blog) unpatriotic and worse.  Part of the way that Frum accomplished this intellectually empty and morally dubious feat was to smear the entire group with generic charges of anti-Americanism (a charge to which anyone who does not praise the empire is liable to be subjected) as well as racism and anti-Semitism.   

This was basically SOP for a neocon hit job, but it raises a serious question: if a key part of Frum’s indictment against the “unpatriotic conservatives” is that paleos are raging anti-Semites, are we supposed to take Rod’s remark to mean that he thinks, at least as far as “some” of the critics are concerned, Frum was basically right about this all along?  If so, why does he think that?  If he does, what should the editors of NR and Frum apologise for?  When Rod has said that NR owes the gentlemen so scurrilously attacked in Frum’s piece (”Pat Buchanan et al.”) an apology for calling them unpatriotic, should they only apologise for the parts of the article specifically about the Iraq war, since it is the paleos’ opposition to the war has been vindicated?  Should they not have to apologise for the entire article, since the entire thing was trash? 

Let’s step back for a minute.  The antiwar right, as of late 2002, had three main organs for disseminating conservative and libertarian antiwar views in this country: Chronicles, The American Conservative and Antiwar.com.  The gentlemen associated with these three (with the exception of Bob Novak, who speedily denounced just about everybody else as soon as he could) were the targets of the condemnation and hate of the conservative movement’s major magazines and leading pundits; they were also routinely accused of anti-Semitism because they had the gall to notice extreme pro-Israel elements in this country as being some of the most vocal, strident and influential backers of the war (just as they had been unjustly accused when opposing the first Gulf War and noticing the same pro-Israel activists pushing for that war).  The truth of this observation was never denied (in fact, it could not be denied, which is why no attempt to do so was ever made), but simply passed by–what mattered was not that someone had correctly identified some of the leading warmongers as extreme pro-Israel activists, but the motives of those who would even bother to mention such a thing. 

This tactic of flinging the charge of anti-Semitism has usually only succeeded against people on the Right in America.  For one thing, for various reasons it has been the strange fate of most conservatives in America to hitch themselves to a vehemently pro-Israel approach to the Near East and it has become a cause for exclusion from the “respectable” quarters of the movement to say things unduly critical and true about the State of Israel.  Observers on the left here and abroad, not similarly committed to the cause of Israeli nationalism for other reasons ranging from the admirable (a desire for regional peace) to the fairly mad (leftover anti-colonialism and sympathy for jihadis), were relatively more free to acknowledge the close ties of neoconservatives to hard-line Likud politics in Israel and were able to draw some of the reasonable conclusions from this alliance of interests.  Since many leftists and a great many Europeans across the spectrum take it as almost axiomatic that the Israeli center and right are generally profoundly wrong about how Israel could best achieve peace with her neighbours, they find it much easier to believe that an American war of aggression in the Near East has something to do with people who are supportive of Likud and their sorts of equally aggressive policies vis-a-vis Palestinians.  It is even easier to believe this when it happens to be the obvious truth.  Observers in Israel have been relatively more free to note that neoconservative advocacy for the Iraq war was being done out of their (as it turns out, completely wrong) idea that invading Iraq would help secure Israel and bring peace to the Near East.  (Amusingly, the depth of neocon error on this point has since been used as proof that the neocons were never really pro-Israel and that no one could have ever advocated for the Iraq war with Israel’s interests in mind, since the belief that an Iraq invasion would be good for Israel is, as we can all see today, quite insane–yet it is nonetheless what many prominent advocates for the war believed in 2002-03.) 

With the government lacking anything like a real rationale for an invasion throughout 2002, rightist opponents of the invasion in 2002 such as myself assumed that attacking Iraq for the sake of Israel was almost the only discernible reason for why Mr. Bush was preparing the war.  Failing that, it really seemed to make no sense at all.  It might be worth noting here, as an aside, that the defensiveness of war supporters on this point is amazing, since their efforts in actively denying that Israel has had anything to do with the reasons for their support for the invasion suggest that they assume the American public would turn against any war that was being openly fought, even in part, for the security (real or imagined) of Israel.  There is a strange lack of confidence in the public’s willingness to support the country that these same war supporters regard as our “reliable ally” in the region, which is all the more bizarre when these same people take it as axiomatic in every other foreign policy debate that “the American people” support Israel.   

Strangely, today many of the same people who denounced the paleoconservatives take it as almost a given that we should attack Iran because of the threat it poses to Israel.  They are not even embarrassed to say it quite openly: the reason why we should start a war with Iran is because Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel with special vehemence and fanaticism and has therefore gone beyond the pale.  Presumably, however, if one of the paleos were to observe that a forthcoming attack on Iran was being done for Israel’s benefit, we would be condemned again as anti-Semites.  (This is usually because we follow this identical observation with an argument for why it is not America’s fight and that our wars should be fought in our national interest, which is supposedly the wrong and immoral answer.). 

Such charges of anti-Semitism over the years have really not had much to do with claiming (much less proving) anyone’s prejudice against Jewish people.  (Such a charge could never be proved in any case, since it is entirely baseless and despicable.)  They are instead the charges that you make in a foreign policy debate against those who oppose interventionist wars, almost regardless of where they are taking place, because there is an undercurrent in all interventionist argument (revealed by the constant obsession with WWII references and analogies) that says, “People who disagree with us today about the ‘new Hitler’ and the new Holocausts are the people who would have stopped us from fighting Hitler and ending the Holocaust.  Ergo, all our opponents are anti-Semites, because we assume most everyone who opposed U.S. entry into WWII were also anti-Semites.”  The very Bolshevik nature of this kind of rhetorical tactic–I say Bolshevik since this was precisely the sort of rhetorical tactic used by Trotsky et al. to try to discredit various nationalists and other anticommunists–is also its peculiar strength.  It succeeds more often than not in convincing people to not look at the truth of what is being said about someone, and it succeeds in convincing them not to look at the merits of the argument at hand.  Instead, it allows you to declare an entire political position to be inherently immoral because of the supposed prejudices of its adherents.  This is an awful way to engage in debate, since it takes for granted that your opponent is arguing in bad faith and also assumes, even if the charges of prejudice were true, that a prejudiced person cannot make perfectly valid and important arguments, which is quite obviously untrue.  People interested in understanding and truth will look to those things first.  Those interested in politically correct moral poses will place all emphasis on whether or not an interlocutor strikes the appropriate poses.  Next to this, truth is a distant second.  The latter method is the one favoured by commissars and the controllers of party discipline.  I implore everyone to reject this entirely.        

The hatred directed against these three centers of rightist dissent was fueled and aided by these spurious, disgusting accusations of anti-Semitism, since those who hurled this accusation knew that if they could tar opponents of the war with such a radioactive label–no matter how false the charge–they could effectively shut down all opposition on the Right through just this kind of intimidation.  The goal, as with almost all labeling, was control and exclusion of enemies.  The truth of the claims was not nearly so important as the effect the claims had on the dynamic of the debate.  In foreign policy debates this particular label possesses even greater power, since it was used to such powerful effect to damn the America First Committee in a similarly slimy and dishonest way and has to some degree even entered into the cultural fabric of the nation.  Because of decades of leftist and internationalist badgering over “isolationist” opposition to entry into WWII, Americans on the Right have felt a particular sensitivity to the charge of anti-Semitism because, as leftists and internationalists charged, the reason for wanting to stay out of Europe’s bloodbath had to be motivated by some sneaking admiration for and sympathy with Nazism and Nazi hostility to the Jews.  Thanks to this false and distorted view of American rightists of that era as closet authoritarians and wannabe fascists (a view imported into the midst of the conservative movement with the arrival of the neoconservatives fresh from their roots on the left), its enemies succeeded in making principled non-interventionism and the American tradition of neutrality in foreign wars politically unpalatable and tarred their adherents with the label of anti-Semitism.  In my view, to participate in the continued sliming of principled opponents of interventionist foreign policy by crediting such baseless charges of anti-Semitism is a terrible thing.  It is important to avoid lending any support to the kinds of charges that Frum made, because they were all gross distortions, lies or misrepresentations of the worst kind.  To give them unwitting support lends credibility to the interventionists who used such disreputable tactics to help push the Iraq war, when credibility is the one thing these people do not have.   

So we have the beginnings of what I referred to today on the Chris Matthews’ Show: an anti-war, socially conservative surge in the Republican party. Now all you have to do is add economic populism to that mix, and you’ve got yourself a powerful electoral combination. ~Andrew Sullivan

I don’t know why it’s hard for Sullivan to get basic things right, but he has a terrible time of it here.  First he cites Noam Scheiber’s note about the AP/Ipsos numbers that purport to show that 60% of evangelicals and 56% of self-described conservatives oppose the “surge” (which seems like a more and more questionable number the more other polls I see showing 60-70% Republican support for the proposal) and misinterprets this as an “antiwar” position.  This follows his mistake late last week of believing that Brownback’s opposition to the “surge,” which is notable because of his ambitions and because of how rare it is for a red state Republican Senator to oppose the policy, was a harbinger of general GOP backlash against the “surge.”  That would be interesting, except that Sen. Brownback does not represent the mood of today’s GOP–I believe that mood is better expressed by Quin Hillyer, who finds Brownback’s anti-”surge” view (and the timing of his statement about it) to be “perfidy.” 

Of course, to be against the “surge” is not necessarily to be against the war, though all antiwar people are against the “surge.”  To be against the “surge” simply shows a certain degree of common sense and a refusal to throw more Americans into the fire to try to achieve unrealistic goals.  If these same evangelicals and conservatives are polled about their support for the war, what do you think the numbers would be?  I would bet good money that majorities of both groups, perhaps large majorities, would say that they support the war and, by extension, they would not accept the obvious alternative to “surging,” which is withdrawal.  I would love to believe that after nearly four years the groups that have shown the most die-hard support for Mr. Bush’s War have abandoned his policy and have turned against the war, but I realise that this is improbable.  I would love to think that the entirety of the 30-odd percent of Republicans who oppose the “surge” come disproportionately from evangelical and avowedly conservative quarters where there is now strong antiwar sentiment, but it actually doesn’t match the trends of their views on this war at all.  If these people are against the “surge,” it is still a very different thing from being against the war.  The antiwar candidate who thinks his natural base is made up of evangelicals and self-described conservatives will, I’m sorry, be horribly disappointed.  Whether that should be the case is an entirely different question that relates to what old fundamentalists and almost all conservatives used to think about insane “God wants us to make the world democratic” foreign policy.

As for the appeal of an antiwar, socially conservative and economically populist candidate, it might very well be strong in certain parts of the country (it would probably be dynamite in the Plains states and the Midwest), but at least one of those three is a deal-breaker for both parties’ core voters and financial supporters.  If Brownback did want to pursue such a Buchananite path (which would be so contrary to his record and so out of character for him that it makes me laugh that his name is mentioned in the same breath with some of these positions), he would have a tremendously difficult time getting anywhere againt the GOP establishment.  Indeed, that combination almost perfectly fits a Jim Webb (he is fairly socially conservative, but not enough for most social conservatives).  Except for Ron Paul, whose candidacy I will gladly and enthusiastically support if he decides to go forward with a run, there are no Republican antiwar candidates.  Brownback’s opposition to the “surge” does not begin to make him one, and evangelical and conservative opposition to the “surge” does not the beginnings of an antiwar voting bloc make.

What happened to the Condi boomlet? Ms. Rice is as smart and articulate and attractive as she has ever been. ~Susan Estrich

Therein lies the whole problem.

It will sell like proverbial hot cakes when it goes on sale in the US in June — but why? What’s the point of having so many devices on something that is still essentially a phone? Did I miss something? I thought a mobile phone was about being able to make and receive phone calls while you’re on the move. ~Dennis Marinos

Apparently Mr. Marinos and I inhabit another world in which being able to carry around a phone in your pocket is technological revolution enough for one lifetime.  It would appear that he is something of a curmudgeon, and so am I, and thank goodness for that.  The marketing genius of the iPhone, like the iPod before it (another one of Steve Jobs’ gifts to mankind that I don’t have and whose amazing reputation I don’t really understand), is that there is literally no good reason for it to exist–but technological ingenuity and the dynamo of consumerism have produced something new, shiny and intriguing to whet the appetites of consumers who have already become bored with something so last year as a “Razor” or “Chocolate” phone.  (I don’t even know what makes a Chocolate phone a Chocolate phone–I have heard the name, and that is all I care to know.)  Now a new waste of money and time approaches on the horizon–rejoice, O ye gullible and easily persuaded!  Give Steve Jobs credit for creating a massive media hype (to which even curmudgeonly critics are contributing) for a product that literally no one needs.  The last time I heard this much hype about a new innovative miracle of technology that was going to blow us all away, someone released the Segway, that ridiculous high-tech scooter, which is something that virtually no one outside of a few metro police forces uses.  A lot more people will use the iPhone, but what nobody seems to appreciate is that iPhone and Segway users will share the honour of being big dupes. 

But, the fans enthuse, you can touch the screen and select things with your finger!  It’s like magic or Star Trek or Star Trek and magic together.  You can listen to music on your phone!  Forget about the shabby world of ringtones–the future is now!  Before long, there will be Apple products that will be able to create a subspace bubble–or whatever–that will allow us to travel through time.  Who cares?  It’s just a phone.  If it has lousy reception or poor network coverage, it will actually be a step backwards from the ho-hum, boring cell phone (mine has no camera, no music, no artificial intelligence matrix to organise my daily planner and cook me breakfast) that I have grudgingly gotten into the habit of using.  (I have had the exact same cell phone for over three years now, and somehow my life has not fallen apart.)  If it works just as well as other phones, you will have to pay a lot more to get the exact thing I have.  You will also have a bunch of really impressive-sounding junk that you don’t need and will not use often enough to make it worthwhile.  Count me out.       

“The imperialists don’t like us to help you progress and develop. They don’t like us to get rid of poverty and unite people,” said Mr Ahmadinejad.

“But the whole world knows that Nicaragua and Iran are together.”

Mr Ortega said he would sign accords with Mr Ahmadinejad to help reduce poverty in Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

The two countries announced that they were restoring full diplomatic relations and re-opening embassies in their capitals. ~BBC News

A few months ago Michael Barone claimed that the Chavista wave had broken and that Venezuelan-style hard-core left populism was already falling out of fashion around Latin America.  The Ecuadoran presidential election already proved this thesis to be essentially incorrect.  Now the Nicaraguan government has followed closely the foreign policy lead of Caracas in tying itself to Iran, suggesting that Ortega’s act before his election was nothing more than an act and the potential for radically leftist policies in Nicaragua is much greater than Barone allowed. 

Unlike some people, I am not exactly shaking in my boots at the thought of Venezuelan empire or the prospect of a Managua-Tehran connection, and I acknowledge that relatively poor, small countries cannot afford to simply snub a country as large as Iran, but anyone who has tried to claim that the “new” Ortega has really changed all that much or has eschewed radicalism (as Barone implied in his post) has to realise that this episode shows that view to be wrong.  In any case, if this is what passes for a mild or reformed kind of leftist government in Nicaragua under the “new” Daniel Ortega, we don’t want to see what radical leftist would look like.

An even better test of Romney’s nimbleness came just two days later, in the form of a video anonymously posted on youtube.com . It showed clips of Romney debating Ted Kennedy during their 1994 Senate race — clips that showed how avidly Romney had portrayed himself as a social liberal when he first ran for office in Massachusetts. From staunchly defending abortion rights to disavowing Ronald Reagan, Romney came across back then as anything but the unabashed conservative he is running as today.

The campaign’s response was immediate, decisive — and very 21st century. Within hours, Romney did an interview with blogosphere eminence Glenn Reynolds and his wife, Helen, who asked him point-blank to explain “this YouTube video from 1994 showing you as a flip-flopper. ” They posted Romney’s answer on Instapundit, their popular blog. In addition, a video of Romney crisply responding to the Reynoldses was soon up on the campaign’s website — and on YouTube as well. Whatever one thinks of Romney’s political views, his campaign is setting new standards for responsiveness, savvy, and speed. ~Jeff Jacoby

But does anyone believe the answers he so speedily and cleverly put up online for all to see?  That’s the real question, and if the answer is no it won’t matter how much money he can raise or how speedy his Web responses are. 

Heather Mac Donald talks to Razib at GNXP about atheism, conservatism and the reaction to her much-talked-about American Conservative symposium contribution.  My comments on the Mac Donald article, the ensuing online brouhaha and other Mac Donald defenses of ”skeptical” conservatism are here, herehere, herehere and here.  There’s a lot in the interview that deserves some response, but I am pressed for time today and cannot go into the interesting and annoying bits just now.  Read the whole thing, and I’ll be back next week with my take.

Update: Okay, one quick note before I get ready to go to the symphony.  Ms. Mac Donald cites, with understandable frustration, the glib invocation of American religiosity as a reason for our superiority over Europe on the one hand and the daft claim by Mr. Bush that freedom is God’s gift to humanity on the other.  The first is the sort of trite thing that professional pundits write because they know it will play well with the crowd and can be set aside here.  On the second point, she is quite right to find this sort of rhetoric not only worrisome but actually opposed to Biblical truth.  That is an important part of what I was trying to argue in my TAC article on this very topic.  How Mr. Bush’s strange and unorthodox notions of some sort of divinely mandated revolution indict all Christianity or all religion continues to elude me.  In my view, Mr. Bush’s God-talk is the thin gruel offered to religious conservatives by people steeped in a very different, fairly unholy secular ideology.  If we count the invasion of Iraq against traditional Christianity, let’s say, or take it as some proof against the existence of God, we may as well endorse atheism on the grounds that Robespierre, too, believed in a Supreme Being and he also did terrible and despicable things. That strikes me as rather silly. 

There are many good reasons to write off the specific anti-Mormon critiques of Jacob Weisberg and Damon Linker: they both appear motivated by an undue hostility to religion in political life, they seem to view strong religious conviction itself as inherently threatening to liberal democracy, they either ignore or skate over the Mormons’ historical record in their arguments and they frame their arguments in such a way that it is inescapable that anyone who genuinely believes in any kind of revelation or miracle should be viewed with scorn and suspicion, as it is only to the degree that religious people have tempered, watered down or abandoned their older religious commitments that they have become capable of receiving the full respect of these secular liberals in the political arena.  However, not a one of these good reasons appears in the less-judgemental-than-thou article by one Timothy Rutten, who takes offense at the very idea that Weisberg and Linker would put Romney’s religion under scrutiny for any reason.  It is all so very private and personal!  He writes:

Religious belief is a matter of conscience and if there is no privacy of conscience there is no separation of church and state, a principle both Slate and the New Republic claim to defend. Do the editors of those journals really want to take us back to the 1960s, when as many as one American in four said they never would vote for a Catholic or a Jew for president?

Not likely.

What both journals are doing is playing with social fire for the sake of narrow partisan advantage, hoping to knock a potentially attractive conservative candidate out of the running in much the same way that some Republican commentators desperately attempted to prod some Catholic bishop somewhere into denying Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry communion because he’s pro-choice.

That effort didn’t succeed and this one probably won’t either because an instinctively tolerant American people understands the difference between legitimate journalistic inquiry and an inquisition.

As near as I can tell, this means that in Mr. Rutten’s world we cannot refer back to any kind of religion for its tradition of philosophical and ethical reflection, cannot speak about our religion in any public forum and certainly cannot inform our political views with truths our received religious teachings tell us are of ultimate and eternal significance.  To do any of these things is to violate a “separation of church and state” imagined here not simply as a lack of a federal institutional support in favour of or against any particular creed, but as a hermetically sealed bubble affecting our entire public and political life.  If religion does not remain strictly private, the mythical “separation” will have been overthrown.  Rutten’s suggestion would not simply push religion out of the public square entirely, but would insist that it stay indoors and go pray in its closet.  The broad-minded, accommodating rule of an “instinctively tolerant” people can endure nothing more burdensome that each person tending to his own garden of conscience!  For Mr. Rutten, anything more ambitious than that probably must set us on a path to sectarian massacre.

Mr. Rutten asks rather foolishly whether Slate and TNR want to return us to the 1960s when a quarter of the population said they would never vote for a Catholic or Jew for President.  I think it is probably fair to say that they obviously don’t want any such thing, and neither does anyone else.  (Query: Is this prejudice actually a thing of the past?  Has this percentage actually declined in the last forty years, or do we simply think that it has because very few are willing to admit to anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish prejudices today?)  Linker and Weisberg might not point this out, since they both claim is their purpose not to engage in any real religious prejudice, but instead of that one quarter of the American people being against a Mormon candidate for President there is something closer to one-half at 43%.  We don’t need to “go back” to the 1960s to find broad opposition to a candidate because of his religion.  This opposition exists here and now, and it isn’t going anywhere just because the Tim Ruttens of the world don’t want to hear about it.  The 43% of Americans are the people who have already decided, as of late last year, that they would never consider voting for a Mormon presidential candidate.  Perhaps Mr. Rutten would say that it is precisely this kind of attitude that Slate and TNR shouldn’t be encouraging, and that the greater breadth of anti-Mormonism makes talking about it all the more explosive.  Would Mr. Rutten say that we should avoid talking about something because it is potentially controversial and likely to promote social conflict?  Is that really the best liberals (such as I assume Mr. Rutten is) can manage? 

When such a large percentage of the population takes such a strong stand against Mormon presidential candidates as such, it seems to me fairly plain that it is the legitimate business of journalists and pundits to discuss and debate the merits of opposition to Mormon candidates.  The specific arguments Linker and Weisberg advanced were unfortunate and largely misguided in the way they made their criticisms.  No doubt they would find my theological objections to what I consider the falsehoods and absurdities of Mormonism to be equally misguided or beside the point, but that is part of the ongoing debate.  To their credit, Mormon scholars and intellectuals have been only too happy to engage in the debate, and they are doing their religion a world of good by facing up to the challenge rather than running and hiding or crying, “Bigot!” each time someone simply starts asking questions.  It is Mormons’ squeamish would-be defenders on the center-left who cannot stand the sight of an inquiry into anyone’s religion who are hurting Mormons’ chances for being understood more than anyone else. 

Most everyone participating so far assumes that it is legitimate to debate and discuss these things.  Among those who find this discussion distasteful are such luminaries as David Gergen and now Mr. Rutten.  Christian conservatives who believe that Christianity has an important and necessary role to play in the life of the nation have a great stake in ensuring that a combination of liberals and Romney supporters do not succeed in taking Romney’s religion off the table of legitimate discussion.  It cheapens our discourse and weakens our political process to declare such things off limits.  If Americans are, in fact, “instinctively tolerant” (which may be true within reason, but is not absolutely the case), there really is no reason for anyone to run away from this debate in disgust.  

For their part, Mormons have nothing to fear from the arguments of Linker and Weisberg: these are either so far-fetched or militantly hostile to revealed religion in general that they immediately turn off a huge swath of the public.  I am sharply critical of Mormonism’s theological claims and Mormon pretensions to being Christian, but I find their critiques to be poor and unconvincing in the extreme.  Indeed, in terms of content, the reaction to both pieces has been almost uniformly negative.  The only reason anyone has spoken in defense of either of them is when a few, such as Mr. Rutten, insist that even talking about Mormonism in this way is taboo and wrong. 

Similarly, Americans have nothing to fear from Mormons if their concern has been over Linkeresque suspicions of Salt Lake City issuing decrees for the entire country through the White House.  It is precisely this kind of fear and fundamental misunderstanding of the role of religious authority in the modern world that is absurd and laughable.  The things that aren’t absurd are the legitimate questions raised about what a candidate believes.  To my mind, the real argument about Mormonism and Romney’s candidacy is really over whether Christian voters are willing to accept someone whose religion they do not accept and with which they cannot really identify.  This has virtually nothing to do with Gov. Romney’s “fitness” for office, which his much more conventional flaws as an opportunistic politician already throw into doubt, or whether Mormons are “fit” to serve in public office (they are and they do serve all over the country) and almost everything to do with whether the majority of Americans that believes that this is a Christian country (however they mean that) is prepared to elect as President someone whose religion a great many Christians regard as non-Christian. 

Whether we like it or not (I am not a big fan of the idea), the President effectively represents all of the United States and, as the conventional view would have it, personally serves as a symbol of the country and the American people.  Those whom we elect to this office must be someone with whom we can identify to some significant degree.  Viewed this way, a member of an even smaller religious minority in America, such as an Orthodox Christian or an Armenian Christian, might meet with the same opposition and suspicion because of the unfamiliarity or perceived strangeness of the customs and culture of that minority.   This anxiety about someone’s background be less important at the level of statewide office, where what the office represents is possibly less meaningful to many people.  This is why I suspect that rejoinders about the Mormonism of Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch being irrelevant to voters (in states with sizeable Mormon populations) will fall on deaf ears–these are just individual Senators, will be the reply, not the President.  More than anything else, it is the cult of the Presidency that creates such high barriers to entry for members from marginal or minority groups: the nationalist obsession with the executive as the symbol of the nation makes it that much harder to imagine having someone from a perceived strange or unfamiliar group hold this office.  The imperial cult-like mythology woven around the Presidency–which is, in its way, kookier than any religious group’s beliefs–requires that the President to some extent embody the nation.      

There is a deeper problem with Mr. Rutten’s objections to Linker and Weisberg, and it is this: there is a weird, creeping assumption that many Westerners share that strong religious belief, up to and including strong opposition to another person’s creed, precludes the possibility of social peace and a well-ordered polity.  If men believe something strongly, they must ultimately want to oppress or kill someone.  But if a huge number of Americans expresses a strong preference against ever voting for a Mormon presidential candidate, their refusal and their preference do not imply that they lack toleration for Mormons.  What it means is that they cannot, in good conscience, lend their support to people who believe things that are radically different from their own beliefs.  That is not oppression, nor is it even a harmful kind of prejudice.  It is representation, and it is how candidates elected through mass elections are chosen. 

People who believe in the virtues of pluralism and multiculturalism (I am not one of them) should be among the first to jump into the fray about this basic question that their own commitments require them to address.  In an increasingly religiously diverse country, in which several of the minority religions are growing fairly quickly and where there is a larger number of atheists and agnostics, those who think that a candidate’s religion (or lack of it) should never be held against him by voters have to come up with an argument far more powerful than, “It’s a private affair!”  In democratic politics, for good and ill, people vote for the candidates with whom they identify, and religion has been and probably always will be a factor in national politics so long as Americans remain a predominantly religious people.  Whether most of the Christian majority will ever be willing to accept as President someone from a non-Christian religion remains an open question (at present, signs point to no as far as Islam and Mormonism are concerned), but it is one that cannot be wished away or shoved back into the closet.  Mr. Rutten’s horror at the idea of discussing these things shows that he does not really believe that Americans are “instinctively tolerant,” but must be kept from discussing at any length questions about this or that religion so that “social fire” is not unleashed upon the country.  This does a disservice to the very minority religions whose interests (and rights!) liberals claim to want to protect, since it is precisely by shouting down questions and discussion that negative preconceptions about a religion are reinforced.  It will be by hiding behind the (non-existent) wall of separation that Mormons will do more harm to the reputation of their religion than anyone else, because any refusal to defend their religion with public argument–a refusal that Mr. Rutten is trying to encourage with his attempt to shame liberals into being quiet about the entire thing–will confirm the worst impressions of Mormonism as something strange, unfamiliar and cultish. 

But Iraq is also at this point in time of very high stakes to this nation.  This is a time for a national desire and a national imperative not to fail in Iraq. We’ve faced crucible tests as a country before, and we’ve come through them when we have come through them together. ~Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

Republicans in Congress, who do not want to be quoted, tell me the State Department under Secretary Condoleezza Rice is a mess. That comes at a time when the U.S. global position is precarious. While attention focuses on Iraq, American diplomacy is being tested worldwide — in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Korea and Sudan. The judgment by thoughtful Republicans is that Rice has failed to manage that endeavor. ~Robert Novak

Novak’s column does a good job explaining the recent game of musical chairs with Negroponte moving from his post as DNI to be the nominee for Deputy Secretary of State (a demotion for most people, but for someone trained in the Foreign Service it is the big-time) and Ret. Adm. McConnell becoming nominee for DNI.  Interestingly, Bolton wanted the deputy job, but Rice kicked him over to the U.N.  As everyone knows, his nomination was dying a lingering death before he threw in the towel.  It would appear that Secretary Rice has been just as ineffective at running State as she was in running the NSC.  Perhaps appointing her to run State was actually a cunning, calculated attempt by Mr. Bush to finally sabotage wreck the hated Foggy Bottom from the inside.  More likely, it is another example of the triumph of Mr. Bush’s preference for cronies and yes-men (and women) in positions of authority over those who actually know what they’re doing.  All that’s missing from this picture is the quote, “Condi, you’re doing a heckuva job!” 

Now I would never have guessed that Secretary Rice might not be up to the job at State.  After all, she dresses so fashionably.  Yes, she may have been the worst National Security Advisor since the position was created, and she may have bungled her way through the war in Lebanon with no hints that she had a clue what was going on, and she may have helped foment the so-called ”Generals’ Rebellion” of last spring through some uniquely ill-chosen words about the military, but we all knew that she was a “student of history” and we knew that she was from Birmingham, and that had to mean something.  Goodness knows she talked about Birmingham enough in her first few years in office: if the neocons always think the state of foreign affairs is like it was in 1938 in Munich, Condi seemed to think every foreign crisis could be likened to 1963 in Birmingham.  Would it be mean-spirited to note the absurdity of Republican complaints about the cult of victimhood when everything their leaders and spokesmen say about foreign policy is one, long, drawn-out psychodrama of traumatised victims or their proxies constantly reliving past horrors and imagining that these events are recurring in the present? 

Brownback can take some comfort from the AP/Ipsos numbers that show his anti-”surge” position matches the views of a majority of white evangelicals and also a majority of self-described conservatives, but he can’t be terribly excited by what most of the polls are saying about the level of support for the “surge” in the GOP.  Gallup shows clearly that two-thirds of Republicans support the “surge,” and the ABC/Post poll reports that 73% of Republicans support Mr. Bush’s proposal.  (Far more intriguing from an antiwar perspective is the part in the Post article that tells us that a slight majority–53%–would favour cutting funding for any additional troops.)  If Sam Brownback wants to be the Republican nominee, it probably will not do to go against a decision that two out of every three Republicans support.  Indeed, the knives are already out for Brownback on account of his “perfidy.”

Update: Rasmussen has a little bit brighter news for Brownback.  According to its poll, only 53% of Republicans support Mr. Bush’s plan.

Second Update: Jim Antle comments on Brownback and Scheiber’s take on the Kansan’s opposition to the “surge.”

Rep. Ron Paul has filed to form a presidential exploratory committee.  Finally, a candidate worth supporting!

A number of Republican senators expressed deep reservations about the president’s proposals Wednesday.

“I want real evidence that a potential surge in troops will do more good than harm and will not exacerbate the existing violence in Iraq,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who was invited to the White House to discuss the plan. “I am skeptical.”

Other GOP dissenters include Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and Sam Brownback of Kansas, a presidential candidate who once staunchly supported Bush’s foreign policy. ~The Los Angeles Times

Notice a certain overlap between the critics of the “surge” and another list of Republican Senators?  After all, which Republican Senate seats are up in 2008?  Well, to name a few, there’s Smith’s in Oregon, Coleman’s in Minnesota, Hagel’s in Nebraska and also Collins’ seat in Maine.  Hagel may be retiring and might embark on a presidential run, but if he doesn’t he will be up for re-election.  Only Voinovich is speaking against the “surge” without having to face an election in ’08, but he is also from a state that just went for the Democrats in a big way in their statewide races.  In other words, most of these dissenters against the “surge” are Republicans coming from blue states, and they know which way the wind is blowing back home.  Hagel has been a long-standing critic of the handling of the war (though we should never forget that he voted for the authorisation resolution just like almost all of the other Republicans in the Senate), so his criticism is probably one of the least driven by electoral concerns. 

I hate to give him credit for much of anything, but Brownback actually stands out among all of these as the most credible as a principled opponent of the move, if only because going against the “surge” (and thus inevitably being portrayed by all of his rivals for the nomination as weak or lacking in support for the war) doesn’t help him at all as a presidential candidate right now.  But it may help him later.  Even though he may think that the 21,500 soldiers would be better used in the Congo or on some other such wild-eyed mission, he has the virtue of being right on this particular question.  When the “surge” fails, as it likely will, he will be in a good position to claim some vindication as one of the few Republicans to oppose the move publicly.  As Ross Douthat notes, he is the only declared GOP candidate for ‘08 who has taken this position.  That is worth noting.  However, 2008 GOP primary voters will not be the ones who will want to hear about how he was right to be against the failed “surge.”  What they will take away from this and from his generally unfortunate humanitarian foreign policy antics is that he is not a serious contender, and the conservative media will make sure that Brownback’s name is mud with conservatives because of what they will call his “defeatism.”

Update: Noam Scheiber (via Ross) notes that most self-styled conservatives and most white evangelicals oppose an increase of troops in Iraq (which isn’t really that remarkable when 70% of all Americans oppose this–evangelicals and conservatives are still more likely to support the move than the average American).  He sees Brownback’s move as a way to distinguish himself from the GOP pack and build up support among core constituencies.  This makes a certain amount of sense, except that exactly the kinds of people who don’t want to send more troops to Iraq also don’t want to send them to the Sudan.  Deployments to Sudan and the like are examples of the kind of interventionist do-gooding Brownback prefers.  Brownback’s “let’s do right by the Congo” view of foreign policy priorities will make him something of a joke in the primaries precisely among those voters who are most likely to agree with his position on increased troop levels in Iraq.  Taken together with his embarrassingly pro-immigration views, which will surely alienate him from these same people even more, it will be hard for him to sell his foreign policy views as something other than re-heated liberal internationalism with some Christian icing on top (which is just as unappetising and Wilsonian as it sounds). 

Second Update: Andrew Sullivan views Brownback’s opposition as a “a stunning sign of how the GOP might become a significant opponent of a surge in Iraq…”  But the dissent of an unconventional Republican such as Brownback is a sign of no such thing.  Not only has the conservative commentariat lined up virtually foursquare behind Mr. Bush’s proposal, but no other leading GOP figure has dissented against the idea (unless we are calling Chuck Hagel a “leading GOP figure” now).  The minority leaders in both chambers have mumbled their words of obeisance, and all declared presidential candidates except for Brownback are for it.  Brownback’s position is interesting and also happens to be right, but it is not a harbinger of a GOP backlash.  Wrong again, Sullivan.

Third Update: A commenter responds to Scheiber’s post with the most surreal statement about Sam Brownback I think I have ever read:

No surprises here, none whatsoever. This is little more than creeping Buchananism. Add a little MikeyMoore/Kevin Phillips-style populism and you have the makings of a 21c middle American red-brown movement. Or maybe pink-tan.

Yeah, those sure are the phrases that come to mind when I think of Sam Brownback (”creeping Buchananism” and “red-brown movement”).  Aren’t these the first things that come to your mind? 

By the way, if Brownback really is into “creeping Buchananism” he might want to let the Buchananites in on the secret.  Otherwise they might get the wrong idea from his “save Darfur” and open borders views!

Fourth Update: Look out, theocons!  Quin Hillyer at the Spectator certainly noticed Brownba…sorry, that’s The Perfidious Brownback’s position on the “surge” and he isn’t just annoyed–he’s blood-spitting mad!  What makes him really angry is that Brownback released his statement before Mr. Bush gave his speech–oh, the treachery!  The mainstream conservative demonisation of Brownback the Opportunist/Defeatist has begun with these words:

Sam Brownback did a VERY obnoxious thing today, one which raises serious doubts about his fitness for the presidency. It shows that he does not appreciate the role of commander in chief, and does not appreciate the special responsibility that senators have — especially senators of the president’s own party — not to undercut the commander in chief in time of war.

Mitt Romney is not going to be president. He’s not going to even be the Republican nominee.

It all boils down to — may we use a French word? — finesse. Finesse is defined as “skillful, subtle handling of a situation; tactful, diplomatic maneuvering.” The former Massachusetts governor does not have it.

Exhibit A was his televised cash-athon, in which he quickly scooped up $6.5 million in checks and pledges. The objective was to ripple his awesome fund-raising muscles before John McCain, Sam Brownback and any others who would dare compete.

Money is important in American politics, but the war-chest weigh-in is best held in private. Lucre’s role in campaigns is a sore point with voters, who fancy that elections can’t be bought. The sage politician will raise the dough in discreet settings. Romney does not get this, thinking more of the impression he’s making on the political establishment than on the folk of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The last candidate to so overtly pin his campaign millions on his jacket was Phil Gramm. The former Texas senator, who raised stunning sums in anticipation of the 1996 presidential primaries, remarked out loud that “the most reliable friend you can have in American politics … is ready money.” Gramm finished a weak fifth in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out before the New Hampshire primary. ~Froma Harrop

So in addition to his Massachusetts and Mormon woes, he can also boast a lack of subtlety.  Get those Romney ‘08 buttons while they’re hot–they will become rare collectors’ items soon enough.

For the President, a real strategic change would be to quit the game, set up his own poker table, and stack the deck to ensure a return on his money.

 

What would that look like? The first step would be to redefine U.S. interests and war aims. Of the President’s three initial aims - destroy Saddam’s WMD, overthrow him, and establish an Iraqi liberal democracy - two are accomplished (the first, we now know, happened even before the invasion). 

Write off the democracy goal as a draw, declare a tactical victory, and withdraw in good order. Of course a terrible mess will be left, but more troops and money can only make it worse, not better. The new strategic aim must be regional stability, not democracy in Iraq. [bold mine-DL] The United States alone cannot achieve it. It will need help. And other countries will not help while we are bogged down in Iraq. They enjoy our pain. ~Lt. Gen. William Odom (Ret.)

Yes, friends, stability–that dreaded s-word.  The dreaded s-word that many an interventionist assured was the problem with the Near East to be solved by their ham-fisted invasion and a round of democratisation.  It is the very same s-word throughout the Near East that the exact same crowd of interventionists fears will be threatened if we leave Iraq.  Indeed, they are using the fear of instability–a fear they never used to possess–to browbeat war critics into meek silence and collaboration with the perpetuation of their dreadful war.  For the most part, war critics in any position of responsibility or influence have gotten the message and have largely been toeing the line that “precipitous withdrawal” would be catastrophic.  This jingo browbeating is rather like an arsonist setting fire to a school and then clucking his tongue and blaming the people who tried unsuccessfully to stop him for “letting” the school burn down.  “Why did you let the raging fire consume that school?  Obviously, you have no sense of morality!  Think of the suffering children!”     

One is tempted to smack these people when they say things like, “But Jordan might be destabilised!”  Oh, really?  Might it?  Since when did jingoes care a whit for the stability of Jordan or any other friendly state in that region?  Of course, the contradictions between the warmongers then and now are not really the issue, though they should remind us to never, ever listen to anything they have to say about foreign policy. 

Containing the damage from the inevitable nightmare of post-withdrawal Iraq should be our top priority.  Limiting the fallout from this horrible war is what we should be attempting to do, rather than chasing an ever-receding promise of stabilising and securing a government that is itself the source of roughly half of Iraq’s misery today.  That is why withdrawal from Iraq is the most responsible option available, because it is only withdrawal that gives us the flexibility, freedom of action and resources to shore up the allies in the Gulf whose security the interventionists have irresonsibly, rather unforgiveably endangered with their foolish scheme.  The break-up of Iraq, whatever form it takes, is not something that can be prevented any longer.  If Washington can prevent the break-up of Iraq from drawing in most of Iraq’s neighbours (Iran’s involvement in the score-settling inside Iraq is a fait accompli and is now essentially unavoidable), that will be a success of sorts.  Saving Iraq has long since ceased to be something that the government can achieve without adopting methods and mobilising resources in ways that the American people will not support.  The people are not going to accept a draft for what remains a war of choice that they did not really desire and they will not countenance ethnic cleansing or forced relocation committed in their name.  Their patience with Mr. Bush has been all but exhausted.  The people already desire fewer Americans to be in Iraq and ultimately want us out in fairly short order.  Given these very real political constraints at home, the goal must be to extricate ourselves from the mess in Iraq as quickly as possible and to begin erecting barriers to contain the force of the explosion when Iraq descends into full civil war. 

There will be three major problems after we leave Iraq: 1) handling the inevitable refugee crisis, as refugees from the civil war flood into Jordan, Syria and Kurdistan/Turkey; 2) preventing Kurdish independence and/or Turkish intervention; 3) preventing the overthrow of the Hashemites in Jordan.  We will also be faced with the effective creation of an Iranian client-state in Mesopotamia.  Shoring up the Gulf monarchies and combating the danger of Shia terrorism and/or separatism in the Gulf will have to take priority over any senseless course of confrontation with Iran.             

I should also note that Gen. Odom here makes a vital distinction that too many amateurs and pundits have been missing: whatever Mr. Bush has proposed this week, it is not a “new strategy.”  The frequency with which the word strategy has been used by all and sundry to describe adaptations that have been entirely tactical has become wearisome.  Every limited adaptation in tactics made so far has been done with the same goals in mind.  The “surge” is aimed at the same goals the government has been pursuing since at least late 2003: according to the standard boilerplate, if you take the government’s public claim to be a true statement of its goal, the goal is a stable, united Iraq under a “democratic” government that will prevent Iraq from becoming a terrorist haven, which is to be accomplished by joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations.  In its essentials, this is the exact same thing Mr. Bush yesterday said that we are trying to achieve.  The strategy, such as it is, has not changed to any noticeable degree.  He has fiddled with some of the details, and, as usual, come up with an unsatisfactory answer, but what if the goal itself is impossible or the means provided are insufficient?  Indeed, the strategy is quite mad to the extent that it is not possible to realise it.  In any case, when the commentariat and more than a few people in government cannot even speak the language, is it any wonder that no one has any “solutions” that are even remotely credible?

To explain the distinction, I call Thomas Ricks’ Fiasco (p. 127) as witness:

In fact, strategy has a very different and quite simple meaning that flows from just one short set of questions: Who are we and what are we ultimately trying to do here?  How will we do it, and what resources and means will we employ in doing it?  The four answers give rise to one’s strategy.  Ideally, one’s tactics will follow from them–that is, this is who we are, this is the outcome we wish to achieve, this is how we aim to do it, and this is what we will use to do it.  But addressing the questions well can be surprisingly difficult, and if the answers are incorrect or incomplete, or the goals listed not reachable [bold mine-DL], then the consequences can be disastrous.

 

One hears much complaining these days that Iraq has yet to be pacified even after almost four years of U.S. military engagement. To those who offer such complaints I remind them of this: The United States has been around for 230 years and it hasn’t been pacified yet, either. ~“Jack Dunphy”

I don’t quite know what motivates people to use the deaths of police officers as some sort of springboard for cheap pro-war rhetoric.  Viewed one way, it cheapens the deaths of these officers and makes them into props for the War Party; viewed another way, it belittles the risks our soldiers face by making their tours seem no more dangerous than the average cop’s beat in southern California.  As I see it, it manages to disrespect both kinds of service while also making the most absurd kind of comparison of serious, but isolated, criminal incidents and the violence of a war zone. 

But, wait, now that Officer “Dunphy” has put it this way, I guess we can all just shut up and stop worrying about the war.  Besides, how could we have forgotten all of the IEDs placed along the PCH and the mines planted by MS-13 underneath Rodeo?   This must be why they call Sunset Boulevard “the most dangerous road on earth.”  Thank goodness we have Officer “Dunphy” to give us some perspective.  Otherwise we might start saying ludicrous and appalling things for narrow political purposes. 

He notes a news report that states that there were 16,692 criminal homicides in the U.S. in 2006.  That’s out of a population of 300 million people.  Iraq suffered approximately that many civilian dead in four months last year, and they have a population less than one-tenth the size of ours.  If we wanted to do a straight-up comparison between murders in the U.S. and violent deaths in Iraq–which so many war supporters seem to think is a smart and advantageous thing for them to do–that would mean that Iraq is suffering from a homicide rate that is roughly 36 times as great as our own (i.e., the equivalent of America having just over 600,000 murders per year).  However bad crime may be in some parts of this country, it is twisted in the extreme to pretend that what happens here and what goes on Iraq are actually comparable.    

Pressed on why he thought this strategy would succeed where previous efforts had failed, Mr. Bush shot back: “Because it has to.” ~The New York Times

At The Plank, Issac Chotiner nails Lieberman to the wall on his ability to change positions at the drop of a hat to maintain his unswerving support for the Iraq war.  Before Mr. Bush’s “surge” speech, Kagan and Gen. Keane said that at least 30,000 soldiers were needed to avoid failure, and Lieberman publicly endorsed their view last week.  Then, after Mr. Bush proposed sending a little over 20,000 more, Lieberman embraced the proposal as “courageous” and “correct.”  He backs Mr. Bush even when, by the standards of the people he was praising last week, Mr. Bush has just embarked on a course that the leading proponents of a “surge” themselves believe will probably not work.  Of course, it is very questionable whether an additional 30,000 or Andrew Sullivan’s suggestion of 50,000+ would be that much more effective.  Still, you almost have to admire Lieberman’s talent for backing whichever policy is most likely to prolong the conflict the longest.       

I did not watch the much-anticipated Bush speech.  The contents seem to have dribbled and leaked out ahead of time to such an extent that it seemed pointless to see the real thing.  As far as I can tell, I didn’t miss very much.  Still, it has been the cause of quite a lot of blogging and commentary, so let’s review some of the responses. 

Reaction has been decidedly mixed.  Was Mr. Bush’s speech a “clarion reaffirmation” of and “a defiant and ringing rededication” to his foreign policy goals and “Bush at his best,” or was it anemic, old hat, shockingly banal and laced with fear?  It would appear that those who have always been or who have become opponents of the war found the speech to be unusually bad, even by Mr. Bush’s standards, while those who remain among the true believers continue to thrill at Mr. Bush’s “unrelenting” and “defiant” approach to foreign affairs.  Notice that no one can describe Mr. Bush’s policies with words such as “successful,” “intelligent” or “well-designed,” but must always resort to adjectives that describe his sheer brute willpower and his refusal to yield.  He may be a horrible President, but he is unrelenting, so that makes it okay!  Like everything else in this administration, competence and success are eschewed in favour of striking the pose of profound resolve and unswerving determination.  Their motto might be: “We may not know what we’re doing, but we will never stop doing it no matter what happens.” 

Surprisingly, one true believer and Bush-lover who did not exult in Mr. Bush’s performance was the legendary bootlicker John Hinderaker, who said of the speech:

In the past, I’ve often said that President Bush has been more effective in televised speeches than he has been given credit for. Not tonight. I thought he came across as stiff, nervous, and anxious to get it over with. The importance of the issue seemed to overwhelm the President’s ability to communicate. I suspect that only a few listeners absorbed more than a general impression of what the new strategy is all about.

Meanwhile, Gerard Baker, U.S. editor of the Times, was virtually choking on the overuse of the phrase ”not only…but also!”  The speech accomplished so much in Mr. Baker’s estimation that it is a wonder that Mr. Bush was not able to reorganise matter on a mollecular level simply by speaking the proper incantation.  Conclude the Iraq war?  Why, that’s child’s play for the startlingly clear and defiantly unrelenting Mr. Bush. 

What exactly did he do in the speech?  He has defied his critics yet again–how does he do it?  Oh, right, by continuing to ignore any and all contrary arguments and doing whatever it is he thinks needs to be done.  According to some people, that is bold leadership.  Apparently, Mr. Bush’s great accomplishment is to remain steadfast against his critics.  His critics may be right about most things pertaining to Iraq, but still he defies them!  It is quite a sight to behold.  

Isn’t it odd that Mr. Baker seems to enthuse over Mr. Bush’s ability to defy his critics, as if it were difficult for a man with such tremendous power to defy other people in this country?  Behold, the President of the United States has not yielded to some bloggers and pundits–what courage!  Before you know it, Mr. Baker will be congratulating Mr. Bush for defying other equally powerless people: “Mr. Bush has defied the civilians of Iraq again!  Amazing!”  If Mr. Bush could put just a tenth of the energy he puts into defying his critics into his decision-making, he might be able to propose something for Iraq that does not seem absurd on its face.

Finding all things Putnam-related, Steve Sailer points us to this 2004 Economist story, which reported:

Less back-slapping will occur during Mr Putnam’s return visit next week, to a private seminar organised by the home secretary. That is because his research has taken a dismal turn. A large ongoing survey of American communities seems to show, uncomfortably, that levels of trust and co-operation are highest in the most homogenous neighbourhoods. People living in diverse areas, it turns out, are not just more suspicious of people who don’t look like them; they are also more suspicious of their own kind. Because of that, they suffer socially, economically and politically. 

It may be worth noting that this lack of trust also functions as an obstacle to the creation of social democratic welfare systems, as a lack of social homogeneity seems to make people less willing to support such a system when it is for the benefit of a different group of people.  Scandinavian welfarism has succeeded, if we can call it success, because of their (until recently) almost entirely homogenous populations.  Thus it is often in those countries with the most elaborate dole systems that mass immigration causes the greatest resentment.  Earlier in the same week in February 2004, The Guardian published David Goodhart’s essay, in which he advanced this argument that promoting and celebrating ethnic diversity actually weakened support for social welfarism.  Thus Goodhart:

Evolutionary psychology stresses both the universality of most human traits and - through the notion of kin selection and reciprocal altruism - the instinct to favour our own. Social psychologists also argue that the tendency to perceive in-groups and out-groups, however ephemeral, is innate. In any case, Burkeans claim to have common sense on their side. They argue that we feel more comfortable with, and are readier to share with and sacrifice for, those with whom we have shared histories and similar values. To put it bluntly - most of us prefer our own kind.  

But what if you are like Bagehot, who finds “his own kind” to be tyrannical and an impediment to an exciting, creative life?  To explain, here’s The Economist again:

Even if there were a stark choice between diversity and social solidarity, it is not clear that the latter would be better. In 1856 Walter Bagehot, deprived of the diversity which the past century and a half has brought, railed against his tight-knit society, which he thought stifled excitement and innovative thinking. “You may talk of the tyranny of Nero and Tiberius,” he wrote, “but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbour.”

Certainly one can sympathise with Mr. Bagehot’s neighbours, who probably felt just as strongly about the frequent impositions of his views that he made upon the community, but what we have here is nothing so much as the perfect example of someone not knowing how good he has it.  There was a fair amount of innovative thinking going on in mid-19th century Britain, as Steve Sailer notes, so what can it possibly mean to say that a tight-knit society of Bagehot’s day ”stifles excitement and innovative thinking”?  Presumably, the “excitement” Bagehot sought is not that of what people euphemistically call “vibrant” neighbourhoods (on why writers should avoid using the word vibrant, see here).  As for “innovative thinking,” why would it be the case that increased diversity would produce it?  If diversity helps to weaken bonds of trust between and within groups, it probably also encourages people to retreat into ever-more comfortable and lazy assumptions as effective communication and the exchange of information go the way of trust.  It adds nothing to ”innovative thinking” if the different groups in a city or country do not speak much to each other because of fear and suspicion, and it adds nothing if they do not even use the same language.    

Usually whenever a multiculti makes comparisons between the “tight-knit” homogenous society and what would have to be the “threadbare” diverse society, he summons a vision of an impoverished village of illiterate pig farmers on the one hand and the pulsating energy of pre-1997 Hong Kong, and then asks his urbanite audience, “Where would you rather live?  In a penthouse in Hong Kong or in a thatched hut with no floor among the pigs?  See, diversity is great!”  Somehow I suspect the average person’s experience of the boons of diversity is more like the mutual suspicion and hostility of modern L.A.  For what’s worth, I would wager that people living in Baghdad today would prefer less “excitement” and more real neighbourliness.  Baghdadis do have to worry about the “tyranny of the neighbour,” but this is mainly because their neighbours are of a different sect in a time when sectarian identity has become far more pronounced and meaningful.  Obviously, when there is no social cohesion, people have a hard enough time surviving, much less engaging in “innovative thinking.” 

Voters may be able to get comfortable with Mormonism once they learn more, but their judgment about Massachusetts politicians has been made over and over again. ~Chuck Todd

Mr. Todd has a good point here.  How have notorious “flip-floppers” from the Bay State done in presidential contests?  Before it’s over, Romney may be wishing that the only thing he had to worry about was the public’s reaction to his religion.

The true significance is that Ponuru [sic] is a bellweather for the Religious Right.  If he’s uncomfortable with Romney because of his religion, than [sic] Romney is toast.  More importantly, given Ponuru’s [sic] insensitivity on this issue, the potential for a anti-Mormon “whisper campaigns” and rhetoric by Romney’s opponents seems high. ~cityduck 

I have previously commented on the Ponnuru post that provoked this rather odd (and totally link-free) Kossack response.  Noting that K-Lo posted the email of an irate Mormon reader, who also seems to have been unable to understand what Ponnuru was saying, Cityduck believes s/he has found evidence of some new fragmentation on the right.  Call it the Mormon crack-up, if you will. 

In spite of what Ponnuru clearly said as a clarification, the Kossack takes Ponnuru’s observation to be an indictment of Romney’s religion when it isn’t and asserts, in what must be a surprise to all, that if Ponnuru is against Romney’s religion it is all over for the governor’s chances to become the nominee.  Well, pretty clearly Ponnuru didn’t say what many people seem to think he said.  Even if he did bang the anti-Mormon drum as loudly as some of us have, that would not mean a thing if the broad mass of Republican primary voters was indifferent to the question of Romney’s religion.  However, as I have been saying for some time, a huge proportion (43%) of all voters will never consider voting for a Mormon.  This has nothing to do with a so-called “Theocratic Right” and everything to do with tens of millions of Americans of all stripes (including roughly half of evangelicals) who are unusually put off by a presidential candidate who confesses a religion they regard, and not without some reason, as non-Christian.  That is why Romney’s candidacy is “toast,” and not because of anything Ramesh Ponnuru does or doesn’t say about Mormonism.  However, it would probably help his supposed anti-Mormon campaign if he actually wrote something that could be reasonably construed as anti-Mormon.  

Defeatists argue that the nature of this war is different — that it is sectarian violence involving fighters who slip in and out of the civilian population, who are highly difficult to recognize in the midst of that population, and who are particularly vicious and heedless of their own lives.

To me, that sounds like parts of New York City before Rudy Giuliani took over and made things right in just a few short years.

If that response sounds too flippant, then consider that insurgencies are not by their nature somehow invincible. In modern times, insurgencies that once seemed at least as unstoppable as the violence in Iraq have been defeated in all corners of the globe, from the Communist insurgency in Greece after World War II to the failed Marxist insurgencies in Central America in the 1980s. ~Quin Hillyer, The American Spectator

Yes, I think we all remember when the car bombs used to go off in Times Square and the police would daily dredge up five dozen or so bodies of Mets fans who had been tortured, killed and dumped in the East River by irate Yankees fans.  The cleansing of the ethnic Italian neighbourhoods was particularly grim.  Instead of Moqtada, you had Milken, but the carnage was much the same.  It was a tough town back in the ’80s!  If only Maliki would outlaw jaywalking in Baghdad, I’m sure that the death squads would cease their killings forthwith.   

As for the absurd claim about successful counterinsurgencies, let’s recall that the civil war in Greece came to a close in no small part because Tito stopped supporting the Communist guerrillas.  A sudden change in support from an outside backer sealed the fate of the Greek Communists.  This was not a case of the Greek government successfully suppressing a full-blown insurgency, but of snuffing out a badly weakened one.  Had Tito continued to support the KKE, perhaps the Greek government would have won, or perhaps the war would have ground on for years and years with no end in sight.  What we do know is that the KKE lost because it lost its major foreign support, something that seems entirely unlikely to happen in Iraq since so much of the mayhem is homegrown.  As for Central America, the kinds of atrocities used to suppress the communists there might give anyone pause about the costs of successfully suppressing insurgencies.  Against these relative few (bad) examples, you have most of the other Third World insurgencies since the end of WWII as counter-examples of insurgencies that were not defeated.

The question ultimately is not whether Americans might theoretically be able to restore order to Iraq, but whether we believe doing so to be worth the life of one more American.  As it has been from the beginning, my view is that Iraq has never been worth one American life, much less 3,000 American lives and tens of thousands more Americans injured.  The continued waste of American lives in Iraq is profoundly immoral and serves no greater good.  Mr. Bush’s half-baked “surge” plan is simply more of the same, and it ought to embarrass his supporters that this is literally the best “solution” their hero can devise.  

Doug Bandow points us to this remarkable column by Jeffrey Lord at American Spectator, noting the prevalence of hyperbole in political rhetoric today and the tendency of those on the modern right to use pejorative names to smear war critics as traitors.  What he might have also remarked on was the odd habit that some of Mr. Bush’s supporters seem to have in comparing him to the tyrant Lincoln as a way of praising his leadership or urging him to follow Lincoln’s example.  (Perhaps the comparisons between two Presidents who routinely violated the Constitution and launched aggressive wars are just too obvious to be ignored.) 

He could also have noted how utterly bizarre it is for a conservative columnist to write admiringly of RFK and his utopian use of the line, “I dream of things that never were and ask ‘Why not?’”  The conservative answer to that question is, of course, because those things have never existed before and are not likely to exist in the future.  That’s why not.  Take Arab democracy, for instance–please!  It has never really existed anywhere, and there are very good reasons why it has never existed.  Arab societies appear to lack the habits, social structure and political traditions that are amenable to the creation of such a political regime.  More basically, other things seem to take priority over the establishment of such a regime; even if they are theoretically suited to the regime, they may not do what is necessary to create it.  The reality that something has never existed is a good indication that it probably cannot be brought into existence.  The conservative takes the lack of precedent for something to be as meaningful and important as the inheritance of precedents.  RFK’s quote of Shaw should horrify conservatives, and if Mr. Bush can be said to be following RFK’s lead conservatives should be horrified by Mr. Bush. 

Mr. Bandow could also have noted the weird non sequitur in the column when Mr. Lord writes:

The premiere example of this, of course, is Lincoln. Seeing disunion and slavery as what it was, he not only said “why not?” to their opposites, but grimly went about the task of making those imagined opposites reality. As with the Bush-haters of today, those who despised Lincoln for actually daring to make his dream of union and freedom for blacks a reality were relentless in their attacks. With the death toll of American soldiers in Iraq hovering north of 3,000, it is worth recalling the absolute furor whirling around the sixteenth president as he devoted himself to making his vision a reality of American life, a vision that finally cost over 600,000 dead in four years.

The recent trials and tribulations of the suddenly-famous Miss USA, Tara Conner, remind that centuries of bad human experience with alcohol and the fast life cannot save an individual human in modern times from making the same mistakes with alcohol and the fast life all over again. There is a similar version of Ms. Conner’s experience in the world of politics and government, with smart people who are supposed to have some understanding of history nonetheless falling into precisely the same traps that history warns those smart people repeatedly against. Presidents daring to ask “why not?” are besieged by those who will insist that the President in question has mismanaged the vision — blundered, listened to fools and otherwise shown himself to be one of the worst presidents in history.

And the critics are always right, to a point. Being human, it is simply impossible for any president to implement a war policy (or any other policy) without mismanaging, blundering, or listening to fools somewhere along the line. Flyspeck the historical records of the great presidents and these moments are glaringly obvious.

But so is something else. That something else is the utterly dependable voice of critics who simply do not have the will to carry through with the hard work of making a vision reality, critics who will abandon constructive thought altogether and head for the figurative sidelines to carp, moan, whine, and quiver.

So because Miss USA has had problems with alcohol, apparently in spite of the previous existence of the temperance movement and AA, we should not be surprised that critics of abusive, warmongering presidents fail to learn to be quiet and defer to the great man’s vision.  Like Miss USA, the critics await a great man like Donald Trump to rescue them from the consequences of their own self-destructive habits!  So thank goodness that we have a President with the insight and wisdom of a Donald Trump helming the ship of state.  I think that was the point of this bizarre example.

Well, not quite.  The real point was, I suppose, that at least Mr. Bush and other wild-eyed dreamers are trying to “do something” while their critics are not being part of the solution.  They are naysayers, which is supposed to mark them as limited or failed men who do not want to do what it takes to realise the great vision.  Never mind that the “vision” may be insane or undesirable and that the best thing good men can do is to tear it down and destroy it before it can be realised. 

Mr. Lord really enjoys the Lincoln-Bush comparison:

Yet Lincoln stood fast by his vision even as his critics lacerated him as a bumbling incompetent when he wasn’t busy being a tyrant, precisely the portrait painted by Bush’s legion of noisy critics.

But Lincoln was a bumbling incompetent and a tyrant.  He did have the virtue of being able to learn from his many mistakes, and he shared with Mr. Bush an immense reserve of psychological endurance that enabled him to press on in realising his horrible, bloody vision.  In fairness to Mr. Bush, he has been in some ways less tyrannical than Lincoln was (dissident editors and politicians have not been imprisoned by this administration), and his war has possibly resulted in fewer deaths, but where exactly the Copperheads have actually been wrong about what Lincoln did or where his critics are wrong about Mr. Bush are things Mr. Lord does not see fit to tell us.  He takes it as a given that the means they undertook to try to achieve their noble goals, if such they are, are more than justified by those goals.  All that’s missing is a reference to omelettes.  If that is leadership, then leadership be damned.

In The Atlantic last year, Ryan Sager, author of the book “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party,” noted that Republicans were suddenly finding themselves losing elections in the Rocky Mountain states. Today Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming all have Democratic governors.  Mr. Sager attributes the sudden Democratic surge in the “Purple Mountains” to religious conservatives gaining control of the policy debate within the Republican Party. In Mr. Sager’s view, the GOP has lost the libertarian-leaning conservative voters whose politics tend to mirror the rugged individualism of those he suspects inhabit the region. ~Brendan Miniter

Put the emphasis on “suspects.”  Show me someone from the urban parts of the modern West and I will show you someone more likely to consider himself a “centrist” or an “independent” than he is likely to consider himself a ruggedly individualistic libertarian.  The trouble I have with people who talk about Republicans losing “the libertarian West” is that I am not sure they have ever been to some parts of the West, since they seem to think that people living in “the mountains” of the West are all Scots-Irish backwoodsmen just itching to shoot the revenuers and flatlanders. 

Take, for instance, the place of New Mexico (or even Colorado) in the list of current Democratic governors.  This is supposed to be some indication of Republican weakness in these states today, when a Democratic governor in New Mexico since the Depression is historically far more the norm than the exception.  It is true that since 1975 there have been two Republican governors, Carruthers and Johnson, for a total of twelve years, but there have been four Democratic governors in Apodaca, Anaya, King and Richardson for what will be a total of twenty years.  Just look at the death-grip Democrats have had on the statehouse for seventy years and you will understand that any Republican statewide victories in New Mexico are rather remarkable achievements in themselves.  (As some of us like to joke back home, with the demise of the PRI’s lock on power in Mexico, the New Mexico Democrats in our legislature are probably now the longest-ruling one-party system on earth.) The state continues to change, but it remains one of the three minority-majority states in the country and thus serves as a natural habitat of Democrats.  Of all the states on this list, the one that absolutely doesn’t need the scapegoating of religious conservatives to explain Democratic success is New Mexico. 

New Mexico is still a default Democratic state and typically goes for Republican presidential candidates only when that candidate wins nationally.  Were it not for the odd make-up of Albuquerque with its heavy core of professionals, scientists and military personnel, the GOP would get routinely trounced in every statewide election.  Perhaps ironically, it seems to be the heavy footprint of the federal government in Albuquerque that gives the Republicans a fighting chance.  How do you suppose “libertarian-leaning” candidates would do in a state that is heavily dependent on the federal government for a sizeable part of its economy?  Probably not very well at all.

This brings me a bigger problem with Mr. Sager’s entire thesis.  How can evangelicals be costing Republicans support in the mountain West unless evangelicals are increasingly prominent in local GOP politics and the Republicans there are failing?  The supposed “Southern” and “religious” character of Republican politics elsewhere should not have any obvious effect on whether people in another part of the country vote for “moderate,” pro-business, pro-Pentagon Republicans (think Heather Wilson).  In New Mexico, there are certainly evangelicals in the state GOP, but they seem to have unusually limited influence on the selection of nominees for statewide office or even for House members outside of their heavier concentration in southeastern New Mexico.  In other words, it might be true that the GOP is now struggling in this part of the country more than it was, but the supposed cause (too much religion!) seems to have nothing to do with it.

It seems almost certain that the intense evangelical culture of parts of Colorado has served as a boost to Republican prospects in the state.  This deserves closer scrutiny, but I wonder if the concern over the GOP losing the “libertarian West” (a “libertarian West” that includes Colorado Springs!) is not a bad case of alarmism based on a very few electoral defeats.  Consider that the only Colorado House losses in a very bad year were in open seats with weak Republican candidates.  Marilyn Musgrave (CO-04), whose seat was endangered late in the cycle, certainly represents the social and religious conservative wing of her party, but managed to survive and win re-election.  Beauprez ran a less than thrilling campaign, which was obviously insufficient in the year of the Democratic wave, but a lot more analysis would need to be done to determine why he lost before we can credit sweeping theories of religious conservatism dooming the party’s chances.        

So Iran burns its candle at both ends, producing less and less while consuming more and more.

Absent some change in Iranian policy, a rapid decline in exports seems likely. Policy gridlock and a Soviet-style command economy make practical problem-solving almost impossible.

The regime could help itself by making it easier for foreign firms to invest in new production. Remarkably, it has not done this even though the decline in exports, which provide more than 70 percent of state revenue, directly threatens its survival.

While signs of a petroleum crisis in Iran, are numerous, neither the Bush administration nor its critics have recognized them.

Even Iran’s nuclear power program, dismissed by the U.S. administration as a foil for weapons development, is a symptom of petro-collapse. ~Roger Stern

The serious problems in Iran’s oil industry have hardly been a secret to those paying attention.  The Economist reported on dwindling Iranian oil production years ago, demonstrating an understanding of the actual energy needs of Iran that has continued to elude most of the people convinced that an Iranian nuclear program could exist only for destructive purposes.  Iran could use any civilian nuclear program as the means for building nuclear weapons, but the long-standing assumption of most people debating Iran policy has been that Iran could not possibly have any legitimate reason to develop nuclear power except as a cover for a weapons program.  Just look at their massive oil and gas reserves!  Why would they need more energy generation?  Well, this is why. 

As campaign promises go, it isn’t all that inspiring a slogan, but now that Ralph Reiland has given us the idea I think we should run with it with every ounce of statist gusto that we’ve got.  As pointed out by Ramesh Ponnuru, he comments on the state of conservatism and Mr. Ponnuru’s story from a few weeks back on “conservatism in crisis,” and with the flair of a good two-speed libertarian (they have two speeds: hyperbole and indifference) he takes Ponnuru’s sensible observation that social conservatism has been an overall electoral winner and economic conservatism has been an electoral liability and makes it into a libertarian’s worst nightmare:

Arguing that conservatism’s crisis is “badly misunderstood,” Ponnuru offers a policy prescription that’s sure not to sit too well with those who support freedom, both economic and social.

“Social conservatism is an asset to Republicans,” he writes, “and economic conservatism a liability.”

That sounds like a call for more faith-based tax hikes, perhaps for more wars, because, as the president has explained, God wants men to be free. Domestically, it looks like a call for more government flashlights in the bedrooms and fewer dollars in our wallets.

Mr. Reiland takes what has actually become a pretty standard assessment of American electoral reality (social conservatism helps, economic “conservatism” hurts) and make it into an argument for a certain set of anti-libertarian policy prescriptions.  Indeed, he calls it a prescription, when it is really a description.  So right away there is a great deal of confusion in Mr. Reiland’s response.  The rest of his response is fairly overheated, when you consider the simple truth that cheering on the workings of an unfettered market and pushing for massive deregulation, for example, are wildly unpopular.  It might be the case that something that is wildly unpopular is still the right thing to do and is worth advocating in spite of the political cost, but that is a different argument.  Before we can have that argument, libertarians should at least be able to acknowledge that advocacy of their economic policies is a political liability, especially nowadays.  As Ponnuru says in his post:

I am for anti-statists taking a careful look at their actual political prospects rather than at what they wish those prospects were. But I am not surprised that some libertarians would respond to my attempt to do that by retreating deeper into fantasy. 

Even given the retreat into fantasy, each item Mr. Reiland brings up seems weirdly and completely disconnected from Mr. Ponnuru’s assessment of electoral reality.  Perhaps economic populism would mean “fewer dollars in our wallets” or perhaps not, but “social conservatism” as it is usually defined has no obvious position on taxes (on the whole, avowed social conservatives have tended to be anti-tax to the extent that they see reducing revenues as a way of weakening an intrusive and culturally hostile government).  Social conservatism is not the equal and opposite of what we are calling “economic conservatism.”  For the most part, they relate to entirely different spheres of life and support for one does not necessarily imply hostility to the other.  While a social conservative may be more sympathetic to state power to regulate certain kinds of behaviour that he deems immoral, it does not necessarily follow that he thinks the government should be involved in economic regulation to the same degree.  But as far as I can tell Ponnuru wasn’t defending one or the other.  He wasn’t making a prescription at this point.  What Mr. Ponnuru said, pretty plainly, is that one tends to win a party votes and the other tends to lose a party votes.  If this runs up against the findings of the methodologically questionable and difficult-to-credit Kirby/Boaz report, that is not the fault of all the people who regard the report’s findings to be an exaggeration of libertarian political strength.    

Just out of curiosity I have to ask: what, pray, is a “faith-based tax hike”?  Is Mr. Reiland referring obscurely to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s support for jacking up property taxes in his conviction that he was serving a Christian vision of social justice?  This was surely a fairly isolated and unusual incident.  (More common, at the state level, were the tax hikes of the Taft administration in Ohio aimed at closing the budget gap created by the habit of reckless spending acquired in the booming ’90s.)  If this is not a reference to Riley, I literally have no idea what he’s talking about, since the trouble with Mr. Bush’s fiscal management has been rampant spending together with tax cuts.  Had we had a few more “faith-based tax hikes,” the deficit would at least be less egregiously unbalanced (which is not to say, lest Mr. Reiland have a stroke, that we should have had all the spending that we did have).

What, in fact, does social conservatism have to do with war?  It is apparently and unfortunately true that many of the most stalwart leading social conservatives (e.g., Santorum) are also strongly in favour of the war in Iraq and Mr. Bush’s proclivity to use force generally, but if warmongering were a feature of social conservatism itself you would have to count this against social conservatism’s appeal.  The appeal that social conservatism has is to those people who feel their values or way of life threatened by attacks in the culture wars, rather than seeing their values being necessarily advanced by the wars in Asia.  (Indeed, if most social conservatives are Christian and a Christian “theocracy” is supposedly the goal of these people, as Mr. Reiland hints at the end, how do wars of “liberation” in the Islamic world that work to benefit of Islamic fundamentalist and to the detriment of Christians overseas advance this social conservative vision?)   

Note that Mr. Reiland thinks that Ponnuru is advocating more government flashlights in our bedrooms, which apparently means that he believes that the government has flashlights there now.  Are these Homeland Security flashlights, issued in case of power failure resulting from a terrorist attack?  Or are these flashlights that people get from the government when they pay their taxes in a timely fashion as a complimentary prize of sorts?  Yes, I do realise he is speaking figuratively here about government intrusions on our privacy, and if he focused on the actual intrusions the feds have done in the last few years he might find a very sympathetic conservative audience that regards the PATRIOT Act as excessive and unconstitutional.  But, no, it’s always about people snooping on what you do in your bedroom, in spite of the fact that the old Republican majority did essentially nothing that might be construed as an attempt to dictate sexual mores or intrude on the privacy of anyone’s bedroom.  In the very same article where he notes that sodomy laws have been struck from the books, he would have us believe that the government needs “flashlights” to ferret out the social miscreants engaged in unseemly acts in the bedrooms of the land.  Why does the government need flashlights anyway?  Don’t the social miscreants have light switches?

Yet he hopes to remain in the public spotlight as director of the EPPC’s brand-new America’s Enemies program.

“It’s a stark name,” says Santorum. “But we wanted to be candid about the fact that America really does have enemies and to point out that the nature of these enemies is much more complex than what people realize. It’s not just Islamic fascism, but also Venezuela, North Korea, and, increasingly in my opinion, Russia.” ~John Miller

Yes, it’s all terribly complex, especially when so much of it is made-up.  If Mr. Santorum would just leave the world alone, the world would leave him alone, but still he persists.  So we see that Mr. Santorum’s list of our major foreign foes ranges from the delusional (”Islamic fascism” as such doesn’t exist, so it has to be an imaginary distortion of the real jihadi threat) to the silly (Venezuela) to the blindingly obvious (North Korea) to the absurd (Russia). 

I don’t doubt that Hugo Chavez despises the U.S.  Like his hero, Castro, he is reflexively hostile, but while we’re listing inconsequential tinpot dictators and demagogues we might list the dictators of Burma or Robert Mugabe or Evo Morales as our enemies.  Do any of them actually have the ability to threaten the United States or our legitimate, just interests?  Not really, no.  Not unless we insist on defining our interests as including those things that these governments do threaten, which are mainly their own populations.  As for Russia, Moscow will pursue its interests, which may sometimes conflict with Washington’s, but we would be fools to resurrect the old dynamic of antagonistic rivalry between our governments by heeding the irresponsible voices of people like Mr. Santorum. 

There is some consolation that Mr. Santorum’s ideas will not get very far in today’s Washington.  He tells John Miller that his expertise for EPPC will be in the realm of ideas and communication:

“This is a very impressive group of folks who share my worldview more than any other group in town,” says Santorum. “We’re going to have a lot of synergy. I know that I’m not the foremost scholar in the world, but I can offer a lot of ideas and help put together a communications strategy to describe the threats we face. Communication is a big problem, as the results of the elections in November show.”
 

I suppose he has confidence in this because effectively communicating the message that Venezuela and Iran are trying to take over the world worked so well for him in the past.  Still, you have to admire the conviction that it isn’t the horrible message of confrontational interventionist foreign policy that failed so completely in his own campaign and around the country.  In this view, it is simply the method of communicating this vision that needs improvement.  If only the true believers could get the Truth to the people, they would finally get it!  That’s a communications strategy!  Who better to advise EPPC on effective communication than Rick Santorum?  This should be a big success, just like his re-election campaign.

I don’t imagine new anger was invented yesterday or that it first arose in the pages of The New Republic. ~Peter Wood

Not that I would want to be contrary or anything so disreputable as that, but wasn’t the whole point of Mr. Wood’s original anti-Chait article last week that “New Anger” (which used to be capitalised in Mr. Wood’s writings, but has now apparently lost its special status) was very much a new phenomenon in political journalism, one of whose leading pioneers was none other than Mr. Chait at TNR?  Wasn’t the main point that Mr. Chait’s response to Brink Lindsey, which I discussed here, was a shining example of New Anger (I am confident that Mr. Wood was profoundly wrong on this vital point) and that Chait was therefore a prominent representative of that phenomenon?  According to Wood, Chait did not invent this kind of anger, but he unleashed it in the world of “respectable” journalism and commentary (where it had supposedly never existed before then).  Thus Mr. Wood wrote last week:

This is the anger of show-offs and eager-to-ignite match-heads. It had been gaining ground in American culture for decades before arriving in mainstream politics.  When it did arrive in politics, New Anger found homes on both the Left (e.g. Howard Dean) and Right (e.g. Ann Coulter), but the Left provided much more commodious quarters.
————————

“Mad About You” broke a long-standing taboo in serious political journalism. Before the article few would have thought that “I hate President George W. Bush,” was a respectable argument — or any argument at all. But Chait’s declaration somehow changed the chemistry of liberal political rhetoric. In the months that followed the article, declaring that one detested President Bush moved from the fringes to become a mainstream way for many liberals to articulate their political passion. 
 

So he never claimed that the phenomenon arose “yesterday” or that it finds its origins solely at TNR, but he did say that Chait and TNR provided the catalyst for making this kind of “anger” respectable, such that it “changed the chemistry of liberal political rhetoric.”  That still lays a rather considerable part of the blame, if so it can be called, at their door.   

Let me first declare an interest.  As a blogger and a curmudgeon, I “sneer” at all kinds of people on a regular basis and whether or not this is a new addition to our political discourse (which, of course, it isn’t) it is certainly no more undesirable than the dreary mumble of consensus politics or the dreadfully affected seriousness of wannabe “experts” that make up most political arguments today.  Typically what the mumblers and ”experts” find so troubling about political passion of any kind is that it is a) volatile and therefore difficult to manage and stifle as they are normally able to do to political opponents and b) likely to exist among those who have no time for people like them.  It is also normally not something that the elite possesses, but is something obviously visceral and populist.  To such people, someone like Lou Dobbs disqualifies himself as a reporter of the news because he gets, well, rather agitated about the ongoing betrayals of the nation by corporations and their time-serving lackeys in government, which doesn’t mean that his claims are actually untrue or that it is wrong when his sense of patriotism is outraged by such betrayals.  (Note: to call someone a “time-serving lackey” is, according to the milquetoast guardians of public discourse, an angry and mean thing to say.) 

Indeed, you almost have to think that there would be something deeply wrong with opponents of Mr. Bush and his policies if we believed that Mr. Bush and his policies were as abominable as we hold them to be without getting a bit angry about what they have done to our country.  While there is the real danger that inflamed political passions can be blinding and irrational (for a good example, see the near-insane hysteria of war supporters in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq), the alternative that these sages propose is one of living death in which we watch as our country, Constitution and Republic are savaged, mistreated and insulted by treacherous villains with a mild equanimity.  Apparently, we must never get upset about even the most appalling crimes and wrongdoing.  The irascible aspect of the soul should not go to excess, but there is something vicious and strange in the failure to get angry at gross injustice and criminal misrule.  Many of the people who are angry at or even hate Mr. Bush have very good reasons, and they are not making arguments for anger but are making impassioned arguments against an abominable and awful administration.  If those arguments put off many “moderates” and the like, it is because our political culture has almost certainly become too pathetically nice and has been completely sapped of the kind of vigour that once made politics the sort of rough-and-tumble affair in which decent men would not have wanted women to participate because of its harshness.  

Nowadays we have the ludicrous Speaker of the House having photo-ops of children holding the Speaker’s gavel and the President talking about how much he cares about this or that suffering group.  The endless appeals to bipartisanship, the constant flow of saccharine rhetoric and the nauseatingly cheerful ranks of professional politicians tell me that our political culture is so far from being flooded with anger that it isn’t even funny.  For those who, like Mr. Wood, think we live in an age of considerable political anger and fear its culturally destructive effects, I will point them to the bizarre enthusiasm for Barack Obama, who always offers the sickening “let’s bring people together” pap and embodies the tiresome ”I understand your valid concerns” style of disingenuous politicking.  Everyone seems convinced that the midterms were a message to Washington to start working together, when nothing could be further from the truth.  We elected the Democrats to start throwing up roadblocks and engage in pigheaded obstructionism.  Why else would you elect the opposition party except to actively oppose the President?   Personally, I regard this treacly, meaningless kind of political appeal as a far more serious threat to the quality of our political discourse than legions of bitter Kossacks shouting themselves hoarse with contempt for the GOP.  The Kossacks and the like may not have much to say, but they do say something.  Politicians operating in the Obama style have nothing to say and actually seem proud that they deal in such empty banter.   

People who are passionately stirred up over questions of policy are usually people who believe that the political consensus has got it horribly wrong and that the mumblers and “experts” are doing serious harm to the country.  For the most part, those who supposedly want us all to calm down really just want us to roll over and play dead while they continue to ruin the country.  The number of people complaining about liberal anger today or conservative hatred ten years ago because of a deep concern with upholding Stoic morality is assuredly very, very small. 

When Chait finds Republicans rather ridiculous and two-faced for making a sudden discovery of apatheia as a principal political virtue, he is quite right.  In the ’90s, people on the right were genuinely angry and they let everyone know it.  It was assuredly the media that created and pushed the stereotype of 1994 as the year of the “angry, white male,” but that didn’t mean that a lot of white men weren’t angry at Clinton and the entire state of affairs.  Conservatives once found liberals’ habit of dismissing every legitimate defense conservatives made against the latest social or cultural outrage of the left as “hate” to be intellectually vacuous and insulting.  Now some on the right would apparently like nothing more than to adopt this pose of righteous calm (righteous indignation being so very culturally destructive) at the very moment when liberal rage is likely to diminish and moderate with the Democratic takeover of Congress.  There has been the tendency on the part of liberals to reduce an opponent’s entire position to being nothing than ”hate,” as if no one could oppose rampant immorality, racial preferences or intrusive government, to name just a few things, without hating other people.  Alongside this, though, there was real hatred of a terrible President in Clinton, whose administration only appears relatively decent today because of the hideousness of his successor’s policies. 

Clinton-hatred was frankly a major part of the glue that held conservatives together despite differences among ourselves.  Oddly enough, without a Democrat in the White House to serve as a hate-figure against which all conservatives could rally, all those who call themselves conservative have (re)discovered that they haven’t had a lot in common with each other for a very long time.  To that extent, those who stoked the anti-Clinton fury of the ’90s knew what they were doing: they were attempting to keep some kind of coalition together during the right’s time in what was still effectively the opposition despite having control of Congress.  Anyone familiar with most talk radio or the blog right will also know that the same passions that animated so many conservatives back then have not gone anywhere and have, especially with respect to the Iraq war, gotten worse and worse in the last few years.   

There may be a sense in which there is a real difference between the types of irascibility across the political spectrum that both Wood and Chait miss.  It was Chilton Williamson, I believe, who proposed in the pages of Chronicles that an important distinction between right and left was the difference between hatred of those things that threaten and endanger what you love and an aimless, insatiable rage that simply seeks new things about which one can be enraged.  The former is not only sometimes necessary but is actually the mark of sanity, whereas the latter is a consuming, demonic force that devours those who participate in it.     

Jim Antle writes on the left’s recent anti-Mormon assaults:

The standards being set by the Mormonphobes could have the effect of excluding a lot of other believers from the political process.

Today is the Orthodox celebration of Nativity on the Old Calendar (some Orthodox have already celebrated the Feast on Dec. 25), and today seems a good day to make a few more remarks on the implications of the Linker and Weisberg anti-Mormon articles.  Weisberg is more explicit than Linker and takes a slightly different tack when he indicates his preference for older religions that have had centuries to more effectively dilute the stranger and more troubling (to secularists) aspects of their teachings.  Thus Weisberg:

The world’s greater religions have had time to splinter, moderate, and turn their myths into metaphor. The Church of Latter-day Saints is expanding rapidly and liberalizing in various ways, but it remains fundamentally an orthodox creed with no visible reform wing.  

Where Linker seems to favour the anchors of long-established traditions that keep a religion from becoming unmoored by the latest prophetic wind (regardless of how exaggerated his view of Mormon prophecy may be), Weisberg prefers really old religions on the implausible grounds that great antiquity results in a religion turning its truth-claims into mere metaphor and sentiment.  The venerability of a religion somehow guarantees its moderate, “reformed” state.  It is the lack of such “reformed” moderates (i.e., the lack of people like Bishop Spong to openly deny central tenets of the religion) that makes Mormonism beyond the secularist pale.  At least most of the other religions have some respectably black sheep and dissidents a secularist can admire and root for: “Go Kueng!  Go Armstrong!  Go Hauerwas!”  For a secularist looking for a ray of “enlightened” hope in different religions, Mormonism must present an unusually bleak picture.  For good or ill, these folks all really believe what they are supposed to believe (and they don’t even offer yoga classes!).  

While there are strands of Judaism and Christianity that make a virtue out of their progressiveness and just how “with it” they can be, these are precisely the strands (think Conservative Judaism or the Episcopal Church) that are dwindling in numbers.  The most robust and fast-growing religious groups tend to be those that emphasise the reality of what their revelation claims to be true.  (See The Economist’s survey of Pentecostalism for some interesting reporting on one of these groups.)  After all, what else would really be the point of religious observance if there were ultimately nothing behind it but some nice imagery or if it was nothing more than, as a much less friendly observer put it, “mucking about with half-remembered lines of bad poetry”?  (For the record, if there was any doubt, I don’t agree with that observer.)  

Today, for instance, the Orthodox did not celebrate a nice, imaginary idea of God coming down to earth out of compassion for us, but celebrated an event that happened and had to have happened if our Faith is to mean anything.  Today we marked the day when God was born in the flesh of a Virgin.  Perhaps that true miracle and the stories in the Book of Mormon appear equally plausible to someone like Weisberg, but if he is serious about his argument he can no more honestly accept anyone who believes in the Incarnation (which will always appear as foolishness to the Greeks) than he can a Mormon.  I say this not because I think the beliefs of the Orthodox and Mormons are comparably true on the one hand or equally implausible on the other, but because I think a rampaging secularist does not get to pretend that he tolerates religious non-Mormons as political candidates when he obviously cannot really do so (if he is telling us the truth about why he objects to Mormonism in a candidate) but gets some special exemption to regard Mormons as especially foolish. 

Jim has Weisberg dead to rights:

In other words, religion is fine if you are a Unitarian or can reduce your scriptures to poetry. But if you actually believe that stuff, you might be a fanatic.
  

 

Christ is born, glorify him! Christ is from heaven, go to meet Him! Christ is on earth, be ye lifted up! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing out with gladness, all ye people. For He is glorified. ~First Ode of the Christmas Canon

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to Thee. ~Festal Troparion

The Virgin today gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One. Angels and shepherds glorify Him, and wise men journey with a star. For a young Child is born for us, Who is the eternal God. ~Nativity Kontakion

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Christos razhdaetsya! Slavite!
Christos gennatai! Doxasate!

Most ominously, Iran has brazenly provided training and weapons to the Shiite militias–who carry rifles straight off the assembly lines of Iranian weapons factories–and these militias have emerged in the last year as the greatest threat to US troops and to the Iraqi government. ~Robert Tracinski

Right off the bat, you can see that Mr. Tracinski doesn’t quite get it.  He speaks of “the Iraqi government” being threatened by Shi’ite militias when the Iraqi government is being effectively guided by the very people who run one of the largest of these militias.  With Sadrists and the Dawa Party on the one hand, and SCIRI on the other, you have a constellation of political forces from the dominant community all dedicated to not suppressing Shi’ite militias, since it is from these militias that they derive their real, effective power.  There is no nonsectarian group that can serve as a viable alternative to the influence and power these groups possess in Iraq.  That SCIRI’s armed wing has been “brazenly” armed and trained by Tehran has been well-known to everyone since before the invasion.  Back then the government did not even attempt to “treat” the “symptoms,” because the government delusionally believed that SCIRI had a legitimate place in Iraqi politics.  If Iran is arming more of these militias today, they are simply expanding a policy to which we turned a blind eye for the last several years.  It is rather rich to use this practice now as the pretext for war with Iran. 

In the old days of the 1980s, we regarded SCIRI and its Badr Brigades as “terrorists,” but after the invasion we discovered that they were good, old Iraqi patriots after all, who nonetheless still received funding and orders from Tehran.  This reality did not trouble the warmongers in the least three and a half years ago or at any time since, and when SCIRI gained representation in the Iraqi legislature they said nothing.  The sad thing is that Mr. Tracinski is apparently perfectly aware of Iran’s long-standing ties with SCIRI, and yet somehow thinks that the capture of Revolutionary Guards members at Hakim’s house (whose arrest, it should be noted, was protested by the “Iraqi government” as a violation of diplomatic protocol) tells us something we haven’t known all along.   

The fatal flaw in Mr. Tracinski’s analysis here is that he thinks there is really an “Iraqi government” allied with the United States to achieve the same goals that our government has (whatever those might be) and that the proliferation of militias threatens such a government, when the “Iraqi government” long since became an appendage of the Mahdi Army.  When Maliki told our soldiers to end their cordoning-off of Sadr City shortly before our midterm elections (an operation aimed at retrieving one of our soldiers apparently held hostage by the Mahdi Army), that was the signal of whose side he and the “Iraqi government” were really on.  These militias are a threat to our soldiers, which means that Maliki’s government and the entire security apparatus attached to it are potential threats as well.  Given this state of affairs, why we are contemplating anything other than the “go home” option is frankly beyond me. 

But there is another, far more effective option: go wide.

Going wide means recognizing that Iraq is just one front in a regional war against an Islamist Axis centered in Iran–and we cannot win that war without confronting the enemy directly, outside of Iraq. ~Robert Tracinski

The constant insistence that Syria and Iran are fueling what is happening in Iraq is a different form of the same, tired spiel that “foreign fighters” were the ones promoting all the carnage.  Instead of “foreign fighters,” we are now told that “foreign sponsors” are primarily responsible for the chaos in Iraq.  Just “take out” those sponsors, the thinking seems to be, and Iraq will be pacified fairly quickly.  Never mind that practical options for an effective military operation against Iran do not really exist (the Syrian regime may be more brittle and easier to break, but what comes after is, again, not something these fools have thought about at all).  Never mind the colossal economic and political costs of inaugurating a blatantly aggressive war against a major trading partner of at least three nuclear-armed major powers.  Russia, China and India all have strong interests in Iran’s security.  we potentially jeopardise our newfound good relations with New Delhi and might invite some serious Chinese action against our interests if we try to wreak havoc in the country responsible for a large part of their oil imports.  Much of the rest of the world does business with Iran and most other major governments do not reflexively regard it as a serious threat.  Few outside the United States give much credit to the idea that Iran is responsible to any large degree for what is happening in Iraq today.  Consequently, they will see any American attack on Iran as pure aggression and madness.   

For a time even the most dedicated jingoes learned that talking about “foreign fighters,” who are few in number in Iraq, was as meaningless as talking about “Saddamists” and “dead-enders” as a way of describing the Sunni insurgency.  Now that they have the convenient targets of Syria and Iran (which they want to target anyway) to blame for what is happening in Iraq, they can lamely attempt to sell a war with Iran as some sort of solution to our Iraqi woes.  Supposing that everything the jingoes claim about Iranian and Syrian involvement is true, does it make any sense that escalating a low-level proxy war with Syria and Iran (which is what they claim it is) into open, full-scale war actually helps matters in Iraq?  Where there may be covert infiltration and supply of weapons today, there would be the open involvement of the Iranian armed forces in actively and openly supporting their clients in Iraq, which include at the very least the Badr Brigades of SCIRI.  It is by no means certain that the current Iraqi government and its armed forces, Shia-dominated and largely loyal to Sadr as they are, would side with our soldiers in repelling an Iranian incursion.  On the other hand, they might aid the Iranians in conducting sabotage and disrupting our supply lines.  The U.S. government could quickly find the army they have been training turn against our soldiers (the only good news is that they are still such a ramshackle army that they would not pose a serious conventional threat) when the irredeemably sectarian government decides to throw its lot in with its coreligionists and come to an understanding with its neighbour.  This is such a terrible idea that it is almost incomprehensible why anyone advocates it with any seriousness.  Why anyone else takes it as something other than the ravings of a looney, I will never know.  

In words unlikely to endear him to the protesters outside, Mr. Lieberman declared that there was “an axis of evil with headquarters in Tehran.” Mr. Lieberman entered the “what-year-is-it debate” among foreign policy experts with his view that it’s the 1930’s and/or 1942. ~The Caucus

“Suddenly we forgot that he was a dictator and that he killed thousands of people,” said Roula Haddad, 33, a Lebanese Christian. “All our hatred for him suddenly turned into sympathy, sympathy with someone who was treated unjustly by an occupation force and its collaborators.”

Just a month ago Mr. Hussein was widely dismissed as a criminal who deserved the death penalty, even if his trial was seen as flawed. Much of the Middle East reacted with a collective shrug when he was found guilty of crimes against humanity in November.

But shortly after his execution last Saturday, a video emerged that showed Shiite guards taunting Mr. Hussein, who responded calmly but firmly to them. From then on, many across the region began looking at him as a martyr.

“The Arab world has been devoid of pride for a long time,” said Ahmad Mazin al-Shugairi, who hosts a television show at the Middle East Broadcasting Center that promotes a moderate version of Islam in Saudi Arabia. “The way Saddam acted in court and just before he was executed, with dignity and no fear, struck a chord with Arabs who are desperate for their own leaders to have pride too.”

Ayman Safadi, editor in chief of the independent Jordanian daily Al Ghad, said, “The last image for many was of Saddam taken out of a hole. That has all changed now.”

At the heart of the sudden reversal of opinion was the symbolism of the hasty execution, now framed as an act of sectarian vengeance shrouded in political theater and overseen by the American occupation.

In much of the predominantly Sunni Arab world, the timing of the execution in the early hours of Id al-Adha, which is among the holiest days of the Muslim year, when violence is forbidden and when even Mr. Hussein himself sometimes released prisoners, was seen as a direct insult to the Sunni world.

The contrast between the official video aired without sound on Iraqi television of Mr. Hussein being taken to the gallows and fitted with a noose around his neck and the unauthorized grainy, chaotic recording of the same scene with sound, depicting Shiite militiamen taunting Mr. Hussein with his hands tied, damning him to hell and praising the militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, touched a sectarian nerve.

“He stood as strong as a mountain while he was being hanged,” said Ahmed el-Ghamrawi, a former Egyptian ambassador to Iraq. “He died a strong president and lived as a strong president. This is the image people are left with.” ~The New York Times

The incessant chatter and talk about Mitt Romney’s candidacy, and particularly all of the back-and-forth on the question of his religion, have apparently not been good for his public image.  According to Rasmussen’s latest fav/unfav ratings out this week (sorry, subscription only), Romney’s numbers have changed for the worse over the past two months.  In their November 5 poll, he was at 30% fav/29% unfav and stands, as of January 4, at 29/35%.  His “very favourable” rating has been nearly halved from 11% to 6% and his “very unfavourable” has nearly doubled from 7% to 12%.  He has picked up a little ground in the “somewhat favourable” column, but this simply brings that rating to parity with his “somewhat unfavourable” rating: 23 vs. 23.  The intensity of those who dislike him is currently greater than that of those who like him, and the current trend is not promising for a candidate who only just officially announced his candidacy.  For a “fresh face” on the national stage, his unfav rating is stunningly high.  If this isn’t the result of anti-Mormon bias, I don’t know where it’s coming from.

Two such opinions hardly qualify as the last word, but in this case they’re clearly shared by most evangelical leaders who’ve spoken out to date (the rare exceptions include James Dobson, who’s said Mormonism still is a big deal).

In other words, the answer is no - it is almost certainly not 1960 all over again. Breathless pundits in search of religious intolerance are just going to have to look elsewhere for their quarry. ~Vincent Carroll, Rocky Mountain News

This little piece is so delightfully counterintuitive that one would expect Jonathan Chait to be its author.  No, an intrepid columnist at RMN has determined that a couple of guys with ties to evangelicals in Colorado don’t think Romney’s Mormonism will be a problem, which pretty much clinches it.  What about that Rasmussen poll that said 53% of evangelicals and 43% of all voters would never consider voting for a Mormon?  That’s all a lot of hearsay!  Not like the scientific study of what two guys in Colorado think.

To gain stability - on domestic or foreign fronts - he’s willing to trade more than it is worth. Trying to prop up Gorbachev, Baker opposed American support for Balkan [bold mine-DL] freedom, nearly getting into a fistfight with fellow cabinet member Jack Kemp over it. Now, when the Iranian mullahs are beset by falling oil production and growing internal unrest, Baker wants to make it harder for Iranians to overthrow the mullahs just like he wanted to make it harder for Latvia and Lithuania to shake off the shackles of the Soviets. ~Jed Babbin

Ah, yes, the Lithuanians and Latvians now stand atop their Balkan peaks, basking in their freedom!  Well, Baltic, Balkan, whatever–it’s all the same to Jed.  Could Jed find either region on the map?  I wonder. 

In response to this, I propose Larison’s First Law of Foreign Policy Commentary: if you are too ignorant to know basic geography, your opinions on foreign policy are completely irrelevant.

One thing missing from all this discussion of religion and politics has been the increasingly evangelical character of American politics over the past generation. The key president here is not the impeccably secular John Kennedy, but rather Jimmy Carter, who presented his faith as central to his personal identity in a way that few presidents had done before him. In the wake of Carter’s presidency, and the rise of the evangelical Right, religion has come to the center of American politics, and, as such, deserves to be taken seriously, and questioned seriously.  

Richard Lyman Bushman gives a good example of not taking it seriously enough when, in his exchange with Linker, he uses the notion of freedom of conscience as a rhetorical trump card against any questioning of Romney’s Mormonism ( e.g. “Mitt Romney’s insistence that he will follow his own conscience rather than church dictates is not only a personal view; it is church policy.”) ~David Bell

This post from Mr. Bell is a good deal better than the last one, though still not without its own problems.  Fortunately, his colleague Jacob Levy had already discovered Prof. Fox’s response, which should improve the quality of the discussion over there a good deal.

In this post Mr. Bell thinks that Prof. Bushman has not taken religion seriously enough when he invokes the Mormon understanding of conscience, but here I think he has missed Prof. Bushman’s entire point in bringing up conscience.  Prof. Bushman mentions the role of conscience in response to Linker’s fear that the prophetic church authorities, which worry Linker because of their theologically instability, will be able to dictate to Mormon politicians how they should govern.  The point of Bushman’s explanation of how Mormons are supposed to make moral judgements is not to make a Mormon’s religion irrelevant or a way of pulling out a “rhetorical trump card” against any questioning of Romney’s religion.  He is attempting to explain that Mormons are actually obliged to make their own judgements, and that this tends to preclude the aforementioned danger of church authorities dictating policy positions to a Mormon public servant.  Regardless of whether the church authorities would try to do this (and, historically, they have not tried very hard), Mormon politicians would be obliged to judge the matter at hand for themselves.  As Prof. Bushman notes in his latest response:

Consider the Church’s own renunciation of control over the consciences of Mormon politicians [bold mine-DL]–a stand Catholics have not taken. Are you saying this is a false front? Keeping in mind the injunction in Mormon scripture to submit to lawful government, is there any real basis for concern? 

Would the politicians’ judgements be informed by their upbringing and life in their church?  Obviously.  It is so obvious, in fact, that it hardly needs to be mentioned.  What Prof. Bushman’s remark about conscience was meant to accomplish was to counter Linker’s suggestion that Mormon politicians are somehow potentially open to receiving commands from their church elders on matters of public interest and will blindly follow what those authorities tell them to do.  Prof. Bushman says this is flatly wrong and that official church teaching proves this.  Is Prof. Bushman right about this?  If he is, Mr. Bell really has no reason to object to this point.

Damon Linker should have written his book about Mormons and politics.  It might have been equally over-the-top and outlandish in its way, but it would have generated a lot more interest than The Theocons, not least because it ties in directly to presidential politics. 

The cover article got the attention of Chris Matthews, who talks about it with David Gergen:

MATTHEWS:  On another front in the Republican Party, Mitt Romney is about to announce an exploratory committee tomorrow.  And what happens, the “New Republic” runs a front page story on the cover of their magazine about the dangers of a Mormon president.  That is pretty rough stuff.  And I read the long piece.  I don‘t think it does the damage they thought it would, but boy, what a long, exhaustive attack on someone‘s religion.

GERGEN:  Can you imagine if someone who had been—when John Kennedy was running, if the “National Review” opened up the great big package on the cover the dangers of having a Catholic in the White House?  Bill Buckley would never have done that.  Of course, he is Catholic, but nonetheless, that is just so below the belt and so inappropriate. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this the season we‘re entering?

GERGEN:  Well, I hope not because the mormonism issue is there.  It‘s lurking there, but it seems to me it‘s been entirely unfair to have this kind of whisper campaign that says a Mormon can‘t win.  You know, the conservatives believe that Mormons are engaged in witchcraft. 

You know, you hear that buzz out there, and, you know, Mitt Romney may or may not be your choice for candidate.  But he‘s got one heck of a record of accomplishment over a lot of things over time, that deserve to get a lot more attention before we ever turn to the question of whether the Mormonism is right or not.  In a day when we‘re burying Gerry Ford, I mean, I just find this stuff so…

I have had plenty of negative things to say about Linker’s article on Mormonism, but the Matthews/Gergen response is just pitiful, as is the reply from people at TNRHere is David Bell on their Open University page:

Linker’s critics are taking the predictable line that Romney’s religion is a private matter, and that any discussion of it therefore amounts to unacceptable prejudice. Linker is “below the belt,” to quote that concentrated essence of conventional wisdom known as David Gergen.

But most of his critics aren’t saying that, unless by “Linker’s critics” we mean Chris Matthews and David Gergen.  What the critics, including Profs. Fox and Bushman, are saying is that Linker gets extremely carried away with his logical unraveling of what Mormon acceptance of continuing prophecy must mean for their relationship with the government and what their millennarian expectations must mean for their politics.  They are saying that Mormons’ millennial hopes of Christ’s return, regardless of where it takes place, are very much on the back burner of actual Mormons’ concerns.  Prof. Bushman acknowledges how terribly logical Linker is being given the basic premises from which he starts, but finds all of his claims about the potential political dangers of prophecy in Mormonism entirely unfounded in the real world.  The critics insist that Linker needs to pay attention to what real Mormons have done in the public sphere and how LDS leaders have not noticeably interfered in the decisions of their members who serve in public office.  Because he does not do this enough, he gives the impression that there is some chance of political interference from church authorities when there is virtually no chance of it at all.  In this, he is amazingly wrong, and they take him to task for it.  But neither of them at any time says that no one should talk about Romney’s religion or that those who say critical things about it are prejudiced. 

As far as I know, David Gergen, ever the boring voice of the complacent middle that knows no strong conviction (except that all strong convictions are dangerous), is the only person to have suggested that the criticism was inherently inappropriate and unacceptable with the implication that it is an essentially private matter.  It was Chris Matthews, and not anyone who has engaged with the substance of the article, who called it “rough stuff.”  Why rough?  Because it raises questions–questions that thoughtful Mormons do not shy away from, but which seem to unsettle Chris Matthews quite a lot.  This is a silly response.  I think most people, Mormons and non-Mormons alike, agree: if you want to play with the big boys in national politics, you have to be able to hold your own in a fight and not run off in a fit when someone is less than superciliously nice to you, and this includes when they talk about your religion.  This is especially the case when you, the candidate, have decided to make your faith fair game by incorporating it into your campaign. 

Mr. Bell’s focus on Matthews and Gergen allows him to make the debate into one where Linker’s critics are supposedly refusing to engage in the substance of the matter, which results in an automatic pass for Linker’s hyperbolic and unfounded claims.  By holding up Matthews and Gergen as somehow representative of the responses to Linker, which they are not, he makes it seem as if all of Linker’s critics are accusing Linker and TNR of religious bigotry.  “Please make the mean, old David Gergens stop saying bad things about us!” he seems to be crying. 

So far as I can tell, very few critics have made any such accusations, and even fewer have tried to take refuge in the lame argument that “religion is a person’s private business” as Mr. Bell claims.  Perhaps for someone who publicly advocates that religion is purely private and personal, that might be a little more true, but, for any religious conservative or religious liberal who believes that his religion does or should inform public policy in any way, his religion becomes the legitimate subject of scrutiny and inquiry.  Mr. Bell is right when he argues this, but his entire post gives the impression that some band of harsh critics is relentlessly harrassing TNR with charges of prejudice, which is complete nonsense. 

Virtually no one, except maybe David Gergen, is really questioning TNR’s motives in running the piece.  No one questions Linker’s motives.  As he has shown, he is not really prejudiced against any particular religion, but he is against any kind of religion in the political sphere.  I do not assume that the editors there are being any more prejudiced towards Mormons than they would be towards any conservative religious person, for whatever that’s worth.  But Mr. Bell is not being serious when he refers to “Gergen, et al.,” when the only person he is really responding to is Gergen.  He gives the impression of an entire gang of people accusing TNR of religious prejudice, when all he really has to go on is David Gergen being bothered by anything so controversial as a discussion about religion.   

My copy of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics As If Families Mattered arrived today, and I look forward to digging into it over the weekend (Nativity services permitting) and being prepared to join, albeit from afar, the conversation that will be beginning next Monday at the blog.

From an E.F. Schumacher quote cited at the start of Chapter I:

If an activity has been branded as uneconomic, its right to existence is not merely questioned but energetically denied.  Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools.  Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be “uneconomic” you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper.

Jim Antle is making sense in his latest at American Spectator:

In this case, Mormons have a long, bipartisan tradition of responsible secular governance: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (whose ascension doesn’t seem to have caused any concern), Democratic Congressmen Mo Udall and Dick Swett, longtime Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, and Romney himself don’t appear to have taken all their cues from Salt Lake City. There is no evidence that any of them “view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.”

The evidence may not matter to some liberal secularists. They have proven they are not resistant to making faith-based political arguments themselves.

Prof. Bushman takes up the rhetorical cudgel again against Damon Linker:

I am asking you not to focus so narrowly on what you take to be the logical implications of revelation. That is what critics of fanaticism have been doing for centuries. Look at the historical record of the past century as Mormons have entered national politics. Is there evidence of manipulation? Consider the Church’s own renunciation of control over the consciences of Mormon politicians–a stand Catholics have not taken. Are you saying this is a false front? Keeping in mind the injunction in Mormon scripture to submit to lawful government, is there any real basis for concern?

Unfortunately, Prof. Bushman’s appeal may not go anywhere.  The secular critics of suppoedly dangerous religious folk seem to be saying: “We don’t watch what you say or what you do–we watch what we say you must inevitably do.”

Ramesh Ponnuru remarks on what Linker got right:

One thing I think Damon Linker got right is that the potential negative reaction to a candidate’s Mormonism is not limited to evangelical conservatives. Thinking about those voters alone, however, I wonder if Romney would be better off if the Mormon church did not present itself as Christian. The suspicion of heresy seems to be part of what riles people up; it wouldn’t be present if Mormonism were just another religion.

Well, yes and no.  It bothers Christians that Mormons claim to be Christians (with the probable implication that they are more or less just like all other Christians, only better Christians and not apostates) while holding what are clearly stunningly heterodox beliefs, but what bothers some Christians just as much are the beliefs themselves.  For Christian voters, for whom a candidate’s faith is an important element of why they choose to support or oppose him, someone who is an infidel is hardly to be preferred over a heretic, though there will probably be strong opposition to either one.  Were the LDS to say, somewhat improbably, “We’re not at all Christian the way everyone else is Christian and we’re proud of it,” it would not make LDS beliefs any more acceptable to those who already find them troubling.  Earlier today I was commenting on Prof. Nassif’s article that referred to “the Great Tradition.”  By any reasonable definition, that Great Tradition does not even encompass Assyrians and non-Chalcedonians, much less Mormons.  I think you could reasonably expect a number of conservative Christians, and not just evangelicals, to view with skepticism the candidacy of any self-styled Christian who does not belong to “the Great Tradition.”  Someone might object that this approach would also compel many religious conservatives to look askance on the candidacies of other non-Christian candidates, but I assume that is rather the whole point of this controversy.

Wilfred McClay has tried to do three things in the first part of his new Commentary piece: 1) tell us that conservatism is still alive and kicking (which, I would note, is something that few conservatives themselves doubt); 2) the elections were not a repudiation of conservatism (about which almost everyone was agreed before McClay wrote his article); 3) George Bush is really some kind of a conservative.  To show this, he chooses different critics at random, taking on some from the Washington Monthly symposium at certain points, completely changing the subject in bringing in Phillips and Linker (the latter is not, as far as I can tell, someone who claims to be a conservative, at least not anymore) and then throwing in the ridiculous Andrew Sullivan just for laughs. 

Since the first two claims are fairly redundant, except as excuses for kicking conservative dissidents whom Mr. McClay seems to dislike at least partly because they are dissidents, that leaves the third bit as something of a new contribution.  The “Bush is really way more conservative than Reagan” article has become a type all its own, to which some of us will reply, based on Mr. Bush’s egregious record, “Obviously not” or, if we have no strong attachment to the myth that Reagan was a great conservative, ”So what?”  As it happens, Mr. McClay tries something a little different here.  His argument is, as near I can tell, “Bush is just as conservative as Reagan was when Reagan wasn’t being conservative.  So there!”

Before we get to that, let’s take a detour.  The first two arguments are not without interest.  After having asserted that the dissidents compare Bush to Reagan and find him wanting, even though Reagan himself was hardly a paragon of conservatism, he then tells us that the “querulous” Richard Viguerie (he of the “Time For Us To Go” Seven in Washington Monthly) used to criticise Reagan for his poor treatment of conservatives.  In short, Mr. McClay thinks he has hit on something by showing that conservatives like Mr. Viguerie found President Reagan to be insufficiently conservative in the 1980s (which he was) and today find Mr. Bush to be even less conservative than President Reagan, when all he has done is help confirm that the critics have been consistently opposed to Republican Presidents who either corrupt or abandon conservatism for their own policy ends.

Mr. McClay seems very concerned that we have all forgotten many things (lest we forget, lest we forget, he seems to be shouting at us):

Americans in general too easily forget such times of struggle and division, making them over into placid and uncomplicated memories. A bipartisan example of this creative amnesia occurred at the time of Reagan’s death in June 2004 and spilled over into that year’s presidential campaign. Television journalists and Democratic candidates alike repeatedly contrasted the idyllic spirit of unity at home and cooperation abroad that allegedly prevailed during the cold-war years under Reagan with the national disunity prevailing over the Iraq issue under Bush. Many Americans, even some old enough to know better, seem actually to have credited such ridiculous assertions.

We forget, too, that predictions like Joe Klein’s have been made again and again since 1981. We forget that the current charges of “theocracy” were thoroughly rehearsed in the Reagan years, when Reagan’s open support for the beliefs of evangelicals was passionately decried, and his affirmation of the veracity of the Bible was used against him (notably in the 1984 campaign) to suggest that he would recklessly seek to bring on Armageddon. And we forget that not only Reagan but every Republican President since Eisenhower has been solemnly adjudged a cretin by the national press during his time in office, only—even unto the supposedly irredeemable Richard Nixon—to be turned into a wise leader after his departure from power.

We also forget that the Reagan administration itself, far from being happily unified, was driven by internal battles between “pragmatists” and “ideologues,” conflicts that prefigured many of the policy battles of the present. And we forget that, outside the administration, Reagan got plenty of grief from his own Right as well. 

Of course, “we” don’t forget any of this, if by “we” he means conservatives opposed to Mr. Bush.  The telling thing about Mr. Bush is that he gets grief from conservatives for some of the same things that outraged conservatives when Reagan did them (e.g., amnesty) and that he has virtually no conservative accomplishment to his name to offset his terrible record on most everything else.  In other words, ”we” know that Reagan wasn’t terribly conservative, but “we” also remember that Reagan was a lot more conservative than Bush has ever been.   

As the recent nostalgia-fest surrounding President Ford’s funeral should remind us (lest we forget!), the deaths of former Presidents are becoming the occasions for collective forgetting and mass deception about what actually went on during the administrations of the deceased executive.  President Ford?  He was a national healer and champion of bipartisan compromise!  President Reagan?  We were behind him all the way!  No doubt in twenty years some people will look back on this administration as a period of eight years of solidarity and comity, but only because things will have become so much worse that Dobleve will appear wise and sane compared to the contemporary administration. 

There has perhaps been a little too much Reaganite nostalgia among conservative dissidents who should be feeling nothing so much as deja vu when they look at the Bush administration (oh, remember the good old days…when the neocons were gaining in prominence and we were giving amnesty to illegal immigrants!).  Nonetheless, it is not simply nostalgia that makes these people look back favourably on President Reagan and that also makes them find Bush to have governed in a far less conservative fashion.  They need only look at what Mr. Bush says and what he does to recognise that he has almost nothing in common with most people who call themselves conservatives.  By a more traditional conservative standard, he does not remotely qualify.

In fact, Mr. McClay essentially cedes the point about abandoning conservative principle: “Okay, sometimes principle has been abandoned, but it was always in a good cause!”  What standard, then, is Mr. McClay using to vindicate his “pragmatic” politicians who abandon conservative principle?  The standard of serving “broadly conservative ends.”  His ideas of what constitute “broadly conservative ends” are largely horrifying to behold.  Consider:

One such principle, according to some conservatives, is the limitation of executive power. But Thomas Jefferson, who himself held a strict-constructionist view of executive authority, violated that view in order to undertake the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the nation and made it a continental power. Abraham Lincoln made extensive use of executive authority, including the suspension of basic civil liberties, in order to prosecute the Civil War and save the Union. During the Eisenhower administration, the exercise of federal authority to enforce basic civil rights for blacks in the Jim Crow South righted a historical wrong that seems unlikely to have been righted in any other way.

There shouldn’t have to be any qualification that only “some conservatives” think limiting executive power is an important political principle, but unfortunately today that qualification is essential.  In any case, I cannot think of three examples better designed to prove the critics’ case.  In each case, we are faced with an arbitrary use of executive power that did some measure of damage to our republican and federal system of government.  In no sense can we say that the first two served “broadly conservative ends,” since the first contributed to the weakening of the Republic and the second to its destruction.  In the third, Mr. McClay invokes just the sort of justification that paves the way for every lawless tyranny: “righting a historical [sic] wrong.”  In abusing the powers of the executive, each of these Presidents contributed to different degrees to the corruption of the Republic and the consolidation of power in an abusive central government.  In the case of Lincoln, his arbitrary uses of power contributed to the permanent annihilation of the decentralised confederation of states and its replacement with an effectively unitary nation-state.  Nationalist can admire him for that if they want, but we should recognise that it is the action of a liberal revolutionary, a Red Republican like Garibaldi, and not the work of a conservative. 

With the expansion of the Purchase, the seeds of future centralisation and ruin of the Republic were sown.  While the New England Federalists who protested this were early opponents of a feared “slaveocracy,” they were also tapping into the very logic of Antifederalist and Jeffersonian critiques of the new federal government that a large Republic could not long endure.  They were proven right.  (The Republicans were preoccupied with acquiring vast tracts of arable land in the service of their agrarian ideal and were apparently insufficiently wary of the potential for future consolidation that territorial expansion would inevitably bring.) Territorial expansion appears good and proper to a nationalist, but it is not at all obvious that it is necessarily a “broadly conservative end.”

Comparing Mr. Bush’s happy democracy-talk with President Reagan’s unfortunate enthusiasm for the same, Mr. McClay asks:

If Bush has abandoned conservatism in saying such things and acting upon them, then what are we to make of Reagan?
 

Well, what “we” make of President Reagan is that he was unfortunately too enthusiastic about democracy but was never so foolish or wild-eyed as to think that America should be in the business of toppling other governments and installing democratic regimes around the world.  He never said idiotic things about ending tyranny around the world, and he never committed us to a large-scale war to advance such crazy notions.  President Reagan’s democracy-talk was mostly harmless and to some degree beneficial insofar as it served as an inspiration and an example to other nations to fashion their own democratic governments without much help from anyone else.  Much of the democracy-talk is forgiveable because President Reagan rarely let it overtake his assessment of what was in the national interest, and he usually did not identify the promotion of “freedom and democracy” with the national interest.  To the extent that he did, and to the extent that neoconservatives were involved in the pushing foreign policy in that direction in his administration, President Reagan made grave mistakes, not least by setting precedents that could then be used by more radical and less intelligent men later on. 

As for the second part of Mr. McClay’s article, readers will already know what I think of references to the national identity being based in “principles and propositions” and the idea that a country “stands for” something.  This talk is like nails on the chalkboard for me.  Perhaps when I have more time (and when I finally stop cringing), I will be able to say more about that.

Schumacher, along with that other great subsidiarist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, championed the idea of self-limitation. This necessary virtue for a healthy economy, a healthy culture and a healthy environment, is enshrined in the everyday realities of family life. Families teach us to be selfless and to sacrifice ourselves for others. It is these very virtues that are necessary for the practice of the economic and political virtues so sadly absent from our ailing and deteriorating world.

The increasing atomisation of society in the direction of self-centred individualism not only undermines the family but undermines the present and future health of the economy and the environment. The elevation of so-called “rights” over responsibilities has further accentuated the rise (preceding the fall) of heedless hedonism with its rampant consumption of the world’s resources.

In short, therefore, and to conclude these opening remarks, all true economics begins with the Family and ends with the Family. Small is still beautiful because families still matter! ~Joseph Pearce

Of course, faithfulness to the truth of the Great Tradition, not organizational continuity, is what counts most. My point is simply that those who value classical faith will increasingly engage with Orthodox churches, which incarnate the Great Tradition day by day as a living tradition. I’m not arguing that the Great Tradition is the exclusive property of the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is not. Early church fathers, mothers, ascetics, councils, creeds, art, music, and spirituality are the rightful heritage of all orthodox Christians—Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike. There is no room here for Orthodox triumphalism or romanticism. All orthodox believers share a common ecumenical heritage. But few historians would dispute the conclusion that in comparison to the 20,000 Protestant denominations in existence today, the Orthodox community can most justifiably claim to be the fullest heir apparent of the Great Tradition. ~Bradley Nassif

Via Rod Dreher

I think Prof. Nassif’s is right when he suggests that those inclined to study early Church history and the formative centuries of Christian doctrinal development are probably going to be drawn to Orthodoxy.  Certainly, there is a much greater likelihood that a thorough study of early doctrine will draw someone to Orthodoxy or Catholicism once he recognises that formal statements of doctrine do not conflict with Scripture and are, in fact, a reaffirmation of the same truths expressed  in the technical language of theological definitions.  He will be drawn to one or the other of these confessions when he becomes familiar with the truth that most of the literary production of the Fathers is made up of commentary on the meaning of Scripture and that most serious doctrinal disagreements arose out of vying interpretations of certain passages or the methods by which disputing parties were interpreting Scripture.  False oppositions between revelation and “the inventions of men” will break down and seem absurd to him, and he will no longer regard Tradition as some unfortunate growth that needs to be removed to get back to the “real” Faith.  As he discovers that the fourfold meaning of Scripture allows for a more complete, richer and more beautiful vision of God’s revelation, he will become disenchanted with the limited dimensions of both strict literalism and the sentence-chopping nightmare that is high criticism.  So I think it is very possible that those who learn these things will be led to engage with and eventually embrace Orthodoxy. 

But, as Prof. Nassif’s article already hints, the number of people for whom this is relevant or even possible is relatively small.  This approach was extremely important and meaningful for me, but it is necessarily a fairly bookish, academic and intellectual route that simply does not apply to most people.  It does not even apply all that often to evangelicals.  In my experience, many converts to Orthodoxy find such a route to be very much a “Western” kind of conversion–a thing of the mind and not of the heart, if you will–and they are often keen to talk about experience rather than doctrine.  Church history is not unimportant to them, but you might be surprised at how relatively little knowledge of it some of the most evangelical converts to Orthodoxy have (to which they will respond that the “cradle” Orthodox don’t know all that much, either, which is in many cases unfortunately true).  There is nothing really wrong with emphasising experience, since it is a living Faith we are supposed to be witnessing, but I would simply note that the approach Prof. Nassif describes is one that relies heavily on acquiring “the Great Tradition” through words and books rather than images, liturgy and in the silence of prayer.  Contrary to the conventional prejudice against dogma and book-learning, I think this is a very good way to enter into any tradition and I have a hard time understanding how you fully acquire a religious tradition without engaging with its core writings to some significant degree. 

This approach Prof. Nassif describes may lead to an explosion of Orthodox intellectuals and scholars, some of whom we already see in such prominent Anglophone converts as Jaroslav Pelikan, David Hart and, most recently, the great English patristics scholar Andrew Louth (and, if rumours are to be believed, Sir Steven Runciman before his death in 1999), but it will necessarily have limited reach.  At the risk of sounding rather passive and non-evangelistic, I would note that the Liturgy probably does more on a weekly basis to draw in the unchurched and the disenchanted than anything else the Orthodox are or could be doing, and it is not for nothing that virtually every introductory work on Orthodoxy makes use of the (almost certainly apocyphal) tale from the Russian Primary Chronicle that purports to relate the story of how the Rus’ became Orthodox.  As many reading this will probably already know, this is the story of the Grand Prince, Saint and Equal to the Apostles Vladimir sending emissaries to different lands to learn about the major religions of the time to determine which one St. Vladimir should accept.  The emissaries report on each in turn, and each time they come back with discouraging news (the Islamic prohibition on alcohol especially puts off the Rus’ian ruler) until they report of their journey to Constantinople and their experience of the Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, about which they famously said: “We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth.”  Anyone who has to been to a full hierarchical Orthodox Liturgy at a cathedral knows what they were talking about.  To my mind, that is the greatest means of Orthodox evangelism, because it is the most integrated and complete expression of the Faith that everyone experiences on a regular basis.      

None of this means that the Orthodox should necessarily eschew evangelising by other means.  There is truth in the charge that we tend to go along with the stereotype that says that evangelism means preaching hellfire and banging down people’s doors, which some of us use as an excuse for not making much of an effort, but in America in particular I suspect that the marginal position of Orthodoxy for much of the last century, the small number of adherents and its close associations with ethnic immigrant communities all worked to encourage Orthodox Christians here to keep a low profile and not be seen as meddlesome or aggressive in their proselytising.  The Orthodox in America remain such a small religious minority that I think there will continue to be resistance against any move towards a more “evangelical” Orthodoxy.  If this were to be the Orthodox century, it would be a great thing, but on this I’m afraid I will have to remain a skeptic for the time being.     

Justice was never ours to render; Saddam, and Iraq, committed no crimes against us. Some of these crimes were in fact abetted or willfully ignored by us, hence the truncated nature of his trial and the haste of his execution, before the defendant was given the chance to embarrass the United States. Saddam would pass out of the custody of the U.S. military just hours before he would hang, and no doubt not until every assurance had been made that there would be no delay in sending him to the gallows. This was not justice, this was an expression of power. Worse, it was an uncertain, ignoble, and unconfident expression of power.

Justice is for the aggrieved, for the people; for nations there is only the law, accomodation, or war. That’s why the triumphalism, now so pathetically muted in passive acknowledgement of its absurdity, surrounding the capture and conviction of Saddam Hussein stinks of dishonesty. Originally we, and the Iraqis, were supposed to be sated by this offering; now it takes place with the same furtive, anxious air that accompanied the transfer of sovereignty. ~Dennis Dale

He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.

“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative

Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases.  Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire).  In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.

Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully?  For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power?  Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco?  Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence.  It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America.  Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.

From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.”  If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only.  It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing.  As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands. 

This approach has two additional liabilities.  This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures.  To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater. 

If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression.  This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything.  Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression.  Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure!  I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous!  Who do they think they are?  We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions!  (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.)  In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government.  They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.”  (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?)  These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren.  Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all.  It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making.  To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side.  To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires).  When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations.  Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.    

Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression.  This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense.  There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth.  Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along.  Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war.  Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests.  In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile.  The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one.  Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.       

Now, I think the non-interventionists in both parties have been mostly wrong since the ’30s, though few can deny the wisdom (and vagueness) in Obama’s call for more “modesty” about regime change in the future. Foreign policy arguments always depend on a lot of context. If Iraq was a “cakewalk,” non-interventionism would have been discredited for a generation. Now interventionism has been mortally wounded. But one thing stays the same: Whatever position conservatives hold is evil, while the liberal view is wise and just. But don’t you dare call it isolationist. ~Jonah “Lie For a Just Cause” Goldberg

I don’t quite know which is the stranger part of this Goldberg article: the part where he says vaguely complimentary things about “non-interventionism” or the part where he uses “isolationism” to describe liberal positions “from Vietnam to Iraq,” despite his statement later that isolationist has always been a misnomer.  If it has always been a misnomer, why use it there at all? 

Maybe neither of these is the strangest part.  The strangest part has to be the claim that non-interventionism would have been discredited for a generation had Iraq been a “cakewalk.”  Why?  The main argument against interventionist wars is typically not that they will not “succeed” in achieving the goals the interventionists set out to achieve (though this is also frequently true), but that these goals are themselves undesirable and that America has no interest in fighting such wars.  Successful interventionism, as opposed to the slapdash, incompetent version offered by this administration, would not be any more patriotic, moral or justifiable.  It does not prove non-interventionism wrong, and often through its success tends to vindicate the fears of non-interventionists in the corruption, consolidation of power and excesses it encourages at home.  Especially in its Kosovo or Iraq forms, such interventionism would still be manifestly unjust and the cause of aggressive wars.  It would not have mattered whether the aggressive invasion of Iraq resulted in a land of milk and honey and Swiss-style democratic self-rule–it would still have been wrong and contrary to the American interest. 

Elsewhere in the article Goldberg notes:

But that’s exactly where the non-interventionists of the 1930s were coming from too. Theirs was not a pro-Nazi argument, as so many jingoist New Dealers insisted. It was a moralistic argument that held that empire-building was injurious to liberty at home and inept at fostering it abroad. 

(No word from Goldberg on whether those who labeled conservative opponents of the Iraq invasion unpatriotic were playing the same role as dishonest, jingoistic New Dealers.) With these arguments the non-interventionists were, of course, entirely right.  Empire-building and interventionist wars were injurious to liberty at home and fairly inept at fostering it abroad, just as they continue to be today.   

In Chait’s view, libertarians vastly overrate their own numbers and their electoral importance; and Chait characterizes Lindsey’s proposed alliance as a fool’s bargain in which liberals would have to “agree simply to eviscerate” popular social programs including Social Security and Medicare. Chait concludes his riposte by invoking the scene in The Godfather, Part II, in which Michael Corleone responds to a corrupt politician who, after hurling a vicious insult, is asking for a bribe: “You can have my answer now if you like. My offer is this: nothing.”

Chait’s reply is notable not so much for his arguments as for his emotional style. Indeed, his tone of gloating nastiness and contumely so outshines the substance of his essay as to be its real point. Diplomatically telling Lindsey “thanks, but no thanks” would have sufficed if Chait had simply wanted to turn the proposal aside. Evidently, Chait wanted something more. ~Peter Wood

Chait’s article is not really an angry article.  The tone he uses may be one that comes from the frustration of being courted, figuratively speaking, by one of the least politically important groups in the country.  It is the response of someone who realises that his side enjoyed electoral success without much in the way of libertarian support (as has been pointed out before, 2006 actually marked a small decline in libertarian support for Democrats from 2004).  Some libertarians very much want a new home, but the people in the other house see little reason to let them in if it means having to rearrange everything inside the house.  Think about how annoying it would be to be on the winning side of an election and then to be propositioned by some politically marginal group that started taking credit for part of your success.  It would be bad enough if they had anything to do with your success, but it is even worse when they have little or nothing to do with it.  The suggestion that they made your victory possible might just get under your skin and bother you a little.  This is not a case of Chait exhibiting the “New Anger,” but the same old agitation that most libertarians inspire in everyone they meet.  

Suppose that a delegation from the Socialist Workers’ Party or the Natural Law Party were to come banging on your door and suggested a cunning alliance for mutual benefit.  What would you do?  You would shoo them off your porch and tell them not to come back–you may need allies, but surely you’re not that desperate!  Mr. Lindsey’s “liberaltarian” proposal was not much more appealing to the liberals he was trying to win over.  It is like the roleplaying nerd telling the prom queen, “We could be great friends, if you would just make a few concessions to me.”  Chait found the proposal wanting on the merits and, I suspect, resented the suggestion that he and his should water down any of their commitments for the sake of gaining the miniscule support the alliance would provide.  Imagine the response a representative of, say, the Dominican Republic would get if he approached Washington with an offer of free sugar in perpetuity provided that we simply give them Florida.  He would not be embraced warmly. 

Most importantly, Chait noted the political costs of making such an alliance and disliked the condescension inherent in the offer.  To Chait’s ears, Lindsey was saying, “You liberals are so intellectually bankrupt that you really need us to keep your tottering house from collapsing completely!”  Whether or not Lindsey is right about liberalism being “moribund,” I can understand why a liberal would respond to this claim with irritation.  Nonetheless, Chait misses a chance to devastate Lindsey’s claims.  Lindsey notes that Democrats have started avoiding the use of the label liberal, which supposedly confirms liberalism’s demise (if only we should be so lucky!), but the very study that Lindsey leans on to conjure up his libertarian voting bloc makes a virtue out of the fact that there are more “libertarian-leaning” voters than people who self-identify as libertarians.  If Boaz and Kirby are right about that point, on which the entire libertarian voting bloc myth depends, it is meaningless to cite the fact that Democrats no longer self-identify as liberals as an argument against liberalism’s vitality.  Liberalism may be dying, but this is not proof of that.  If they wanted, liberals could simply point to poll results of their own that show broad public support for whatever they want to define as “liberal” positions and declare that such-and-such a percentage of Americans is liberal, even when they do not self-identify as such.  What’s good for the libertarian gosling is good for the liberal gander. 

If Chait was sarcastic and dismissive in the process of refusing Lindsey’s offer, I can hardly blame him.  The idea invites both responses.  I was dismissive of the idea because it was a bad idea, but I have no real stake in the debate.  How much more annoying would I find the entreaties of libertarians if I were one of the people they were trying to convince?  If it can be imagined, I think I would find them to be even more annoying than I already do.

Perhaps I am more sympathetic to Chait’s response because, like him, I find the evidence on which Mr. Lindsey bases so much of his proposal to be flimsy.  Take the 13% “libertarian-leaning” voting bloc that is supposedly such a valuable prize.  This is my view of this so-called bloc:

The argument over which “side” libertarians should take–the old fusionism or the new, liberal fusionism or something else all together–is about as meaningful as arguing over whether Monty Python’s Judaean People’s Front or the People’s Front of Judaea or the Popular Front would be better able to overthrow Roman rule in Life of Brian.  Even if you settled the argument and came up with a satisfactory conclusion, it would amount to very, very little.  It could make for fun debate.  Unruly reactionary observers of the debate could also occasionally toss out Bolingbrokean fulminations that declared the two traditions to be equally obnoxious and therefore in some sense made for each other.  But whatever the outcome the impact of the “libertarian vote” on matters of policy would remain as miniscule as it is today. 

Chait dismisses the Boaz/Kirby study itself with the following:

Alas, the study is shot through with conceptual problems. The first is definitional. Boaz and Kirby classify their subjects based on their response to poll questions on the role of government. Those who give libertarian-esque answers to all three questions–for instance, they choose “the less government, the better” as opposed to “there are more things that government should be doing”–are libertarians. Voila, 13 percent of the United States turns out to be pro-free market and socially tolerant. (Congratulations! You will all be issued a copy of Atlas Shrugged.) 

What should be sobering and not a little frightening to professional libertarian pundits is that only 13% tested as libertarian using this very vague measure.  That means that, at best, libertarians could count on 13% of the people to be libertarian-leaning when faced with the abstract proposition: more or less government?  That probably makes the 13% the upper limit of libertarian potential rather than an actual bloc of likely libertarian-leaning voters.  Besides, as the last election showed, misrule and big-government excesses did not drive away most of these libertarian-leaning voters, so what Mr. Lindsey really has to offer the Democrats is a minority of an already small, unpredictable group.  No wonder Chait was unenthusiastic and dismissive. 

The “unwanted valentine” to which Mr. Wood refers was not even a valentine, but a kind of presumptuous ultimatum with a sugar-coated topping: “let us join forces with you, you over-the-hill, decrepit bums with no ideas, because you really need us and you owe us a little something.”  It is the sort of “love-note” one might encounter on 24 where one member of the team threatens to use some secret information he has on the other member unless she helps him to break protocol to go stop a bomb from going off somewhere.  This is not friendship, but a kind of extortion, and it is no surprise if this sort of proposal would elicit a kind of anger.  But Chait’s article wasn’t all that angry anyway.  In it he stated pretty plainly, “We will not be suffering any fools around here, or at least not any libertarian fools.”

Perhaps Chait does embody some new style of political argument that is somehow unprecedented.  Perhaps there is such a thing as New Anger and Chait is one of its pioneers.  But he does not demonstrate it in this article, which is a perfectly deserved rebuke to a silly idea that had been expressed in a condescending and slightly obnoxious way.  In the end, the proposal proves not only annoying but politically futile, as Chait correctly observes that political success lies in the direction of a liberal-populist alliance that is much more practical and coherent as a political movement.  

Damon Linker’s book blog may be defunct, but he can stir up blogging like few others with his articles.  His original TNR article on Neuhaus and the “theocons” generated quite a lot of discussion, his debate with Ross Douthat certainly provoked me to do a fair amount of posting and his latest on Mormonism is getting a good deal of attention.  This is probably a function of the overreaching and occasionally wild-eyed claims that he makes in the course of an argument.

At the Mormon group blog, Times and Seasons, Nate Oman is none too pleased with Linker’s article.  In his post he makes many of the same objections I did, and adds a few more:

Yet in all of this they are, for better or for worse, acting much more like a Protestant denomination than like a religious state in embryo. It takes an enormous amount of historical obtuseness (or religious paranoia) to see the current political activity of the Mormon Church as covert theocracy building.

And yet Damon Linker is sounding the alarm in the pages of the New Republic that “under a President Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would truly be in charge of the country.” To be sure, Damon raises a nice point of Mormon theology: Under what circumstances is a good Latter-day Saint entitled to ignore the words of a living prophet? Over the years, Mormons have given various answers. Joseph Smith insisted that a prophet was only a prophet when speaking as a prophet, although he didn’t provide a clear way of determining precisely when that is. Joseph F. Smith, James E. Talmage, and others who testified before the Smoot Hearings on behalf of the Church insisted that prophetic counsel was only binding when submitted to the Church for a vote. Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the (admittedly always expandable) canon provided guidance to the authority of prophetic statements. J. Reuben Clark insisted that prophetic statements only acquired prophetic authority for a believer when the Spirit bears witness to him or her of their truth. My own view, articulated in detail in some forthcoming articles, is that Mormon doctrine and revelation is always in part an interpretive process where both history and the independent moral judgment of the interpreter play a decisive role. This is an important theological discussion, and to the extent that an accusation in one of America’s respected opinion journals that Mormons are unfit for public office forces us to think about this question, we are indebted to Damon.

That said, however, his political concerns are ultimately ridiculous. Politics is a practical arena in which questions of what might or might not be theoretically possible are subordinated to what is actually likely to happen. Once we move from the world of ideological speculation to the realm of practical politics, history and experience are much more reliable guides than theological logic-chopping. What history teaches us is that Mormon leaders today will not try to dictate to Romney, nor would they use a Mormon in the White House to create an LDS theocracy. To be sure if Romney is elected President and Gordon B. Hinckley calls the White House, Romney will take the call, but it will not contain his political marching orders. As for the Mormon hierarchy’s retained right to speak on “moral” issues, it has almost certainly already had whatever influence on Romney it is going to have. The Mormon prophets are socially conservative. They are hostile to liquor, gambling, most (but not all) kinds of abortion, and gay marriage. Romney, as an active Latter-day Saint, probably shares these basic instincts. His record, however, shows that he is willing to waffle and compromise on all of them. Furthermore, thus far his waffling and compromise haven’t resulted in any formal or informal ecclesiastical sanctions. This comes as no surprise to students of Mormonism. One might not realize it from reading Damon’s piece (or CES curriculum), but there actually is a history of good Mormons ignoring Church counsel on “moral” issues when it turns political. An good example of this is Utah’s vote to overturn prohibition despite the pleadings of then-church president Heber J. Grant.

So Linker’s fears of prophetic political meddling are unfounded and find no precedent in Mormon history.  (In fairness, he does not say at any point that Mormons are “unfit” for public office, but he does seem to give strong reasons why non-Mormons should not want them to hold public office or should at least put them through the third degree before accepting them as candidates.)  Like most of his fears of takeovers by the supposedly theocratically-inclined, who are usually not theocratically-inclined at all, these fears of Salt Lake City calling the shots in the improbable event of a Romney Administration are baseless.  They’re so obviously baseless that Mr. Oman wonders how it has even become an issue:

I suspect, however, that a large part of what we are seeing in Damon’s article is the half-submerged memory of “Popery.” Four hundred years of fear and loathing is not easily forgotten. The image of zealot subversives in our midst acting on orders from shadowy religious hierarchs has much older roots than 9/11. In the nightmares of some Americans, the echoes of almost forgotten political tropes can still be heard. In these dystopian dreams, Mitt Romney is cast as Guy Fawkes, and Gordon B. Hinckley is Pius V. The irony, of course, is that Damon is not an anti-Catholic. Far from it. He is at pains to laud the Catholic natural law tradition, and as far as I know he is an observant member of the Roman Church. Indeed, I suspect that the appeals to Catholic natural law are made precisely because Damon realizes that he is playing off of old fears about “Popery.” Or perhaps not. After all, Damon recently authored a book about a Catholic priest at the center of a vast conspiracy to undermine the foundations of the country. It is a story line that, whatever its substantive merits in the case of Damon’s Theocons, has deep roots in Anglo-American history. It is also, alas, a prefabricated plot line in which Mormonism seems destined to be crammed.

It is true that Mr. Linker is not exactly anti-Catholic.  He is, as near as I can tell, anti-pre-Vatican II Catholic.  No debate in which he participates passes without his mentioning something about the supposedly politically retrograde nature of the old Catholicism before its accommodation with “liberal democracy.”  The political Catholicism of another era and the anti-liberal Catholicism of the 19th century are apparently for him more damnable than Mormonism ever will be, because they represent an invasion of the secular sphere by the claims of Christianity and represent a kind of pollution of political life with the inflexible requirements of revelation to a much greater degree.  Mormonism may have its flaws in Linker’s eyes, but old Catholic anti-liberalism is unforgivable. 

Today, the “theocons” have transgressed against “liberal democracy” with their insertion of Catholic natural law teaching into political discourse, since this is for Linker not much better than an attempt to make Catholicism the basis for public discussions about moral and political questions.  If Linker’s article about Mormonism gives a whiff of the old accusations of popery (and let’s not forget everybody’s favourite, priestcraft), it is because the old arguments about popery are woven into the fabric of Western liberalism since the 19th century: both represent a common liberal fear of religious authority and established religion, as these things represent mortal threats to the kind of society freethinkers (Freisinnigen) want to have.  For these people, authority itself tends to be a bad word or at best something to be questioned rather than acknowledged and followed.  That fears of such things in the Anglo-American experience have typically been the fruits of hysteria and panic does not dissuade liberals from making these same kinds of arguments time and again.  Should there ever be a conservative Orthodox Christian running for national office, we will hear much the same thing and all the old canards about Orthodoxy and Tsarism or Caesaropapism will be rehashed and circulated anew. 

Razib at Gene Expression has an unusual take on Mormonism: it is popular because it is false and obviously falsifiable, which makes it more accessible.  Um, okay.  Somehow I don’t think the Mormons would take this as a compliment.

Nick Gillespie at Reason’s Hit and Run blog offers a Mormon round-up in response to Mitt Romney’s official entrance into the ‘08 fray.

On a lighter note, this blogger thinks Damon Linker writes for The National Review (what else could TNR stand for, right?)--Rich Lowry, call your office!        

Reading my complaint about the unavailability of the article, Prof. Arben Fox was kind enough to send me a copy of Damon Linker’s TNR article on Mitt Romney and Mormonism.  Prof. Fox has written a valuable, extensive response to Mr. Linker at his blog in which he offers a strong critique, and as a Mormon himself he is far better informed and much more capable of answering many of the specific charges that Mr. Linker makes.  Those things that Prof. Fox doesn’t cover are ably addressed by Prof. Bushman’s response to the article.  According to Prof. Fox, Linker’s questions deserve answers, which he tries to provide, in spite of the fact that Linker has framed the argument in such a way as to make it much harder to give answers that will be understood by the skeptical non-Mormon.  Indeed, in today’s salvo Mr. Linker shows that he has not quite understood Prof. Bushman’s answers on behalf of Mormons.  According to Prof. Bushman, the description of Mormons and Mormonism Linker gives would be entirely unrecognisable to actual Mormons.  However, this general statement about the entirety of the piece is not enough–Mr. Linker wants a list of his errors (as if one overarching statement that he got it wrong were not enough).  Prof. Bushman’s first response is not unlike the response Mr. Linker’s attack on “theocons” has elicited from religious conservatives, who do not begin to recognise themselves in what he writes about them.  

As with all polemicists (including myself), Mr. Linker is tremendously logical while having much less interest in what his target has to say for himself (except insofar as that can be used to strengthen the polemic).  As with any heresiologist (and, yes, there can be secular liberal heresiologists of a sort), for Mr. Linker what the target says that he believes is not nearly as important as the logical implications of his assumptions as the heresiologist understands them.  Historians do not approach their subjects this way.  In fact, they approach them in almost the exact opposite way: theirs is the task of describing and understanding, and there is usually a desire to describe, as much as is possible, a group of people in the past in the terms that would have been intelligible to them.  Above all, the historian tries to understand how they understood themselves.  This is why many historians, especially secular historians, boggle at heresiology and doctrinal controversy.  As people trained to seek to understand what people radically different from ourselves believed and why, historians find the habit of mind of, say, a late antique or Byzantine polemicist embarrassingly heavy-handed and tendentious.  Can’t these people see what their opponents are saying?  Why do they insist on imposing an entire architecture of error on their interlocutors with which the latter categorically deny any connection?  Because that is what polemicists do: what you say is important only as a window into what you must really mean when you say it.  Pay no attention to the fact that Mormons have not been taking political marching orders from  the elders in Salt Lake City–they must take those orders and follow through on them, according to the secular polemicist, because that is what any serious religious believer must do, especially in a church that stresses the importance of new prophecy as a source of revealed truth.  The polemicist knows this because it follows logically from how he understands religious authority.  That is, someone under religious authority is obliged to follow the dictates of that authority, and must therefore be the authority’s willing instrument in all things.  To put such a person in power thus threatens us all with being controlled by that person’s religious authority.  This is especially true for the polemicist if the religious believer is an avowed advocate of deriving certain of his political values from his religious tradition, however indirectly or vaguely.  Never mind that all of this is specifically rejected by the person and the religious authority in question.  The perfect logic of the polemic has no need of evidence. 

It would appear that most of the heavy lifting in this debate has already been done.  However, there are still a few things that Linker does say that I would like to discuss a little bit more.  As I read it, Mr. Linker says that pre-Vatican II Catholicism was frightening because it was foreign and too hostile to modernity, democracy, etc., and Mormonism is frightening because it is too American and too closely wedded to our political system.  Here is Linker:

A very different, though arguably more troubling, set of questions and concerns are posed by the prospect of the nation electing a president who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). In some ways, Catholicism and Mormonism present diametrically opposed political challenges to liberal democracy. With Kennedy’s faith, the concern was over the extent of his deference to a foreign ecclesiastical authority.  The genuine and profound loyalty of Mormons to the United States and its political system is, by contrast, undeniable [bold mine-Larison]. Indeed, LDS patriotism flows directly from Mormon theology. And that is precisely the problem.   

Talk about a tough audience!  Genuine and profound loyalty to the United States and its political system, which Mr. Linker does not even attempt to deny, is rooted in Mormon “theology” and is at the same time the source of Mormonism’s threat to “liberal democracy.”  I can only suppose from this that “liberal democracy” is not what Linker thinks the American political system is (technically, they aren’t the same at all, but in any conventional usage we would all agree that they are one and the same).  Further, it confirms that there is nothing that Mormons can do or say that will satisfy the defender of this “liberal democracy,” because their long-standing acceptance of the American constitutional order is not really in doubt and nonetheless Linker deems them a threat to that order. 

What troubles Mr. Linker, then, is not their threat to “liberal democracy,” which is non-existent, but their conviction that America plays a vital and ongoing role in sacred history to a much greater degree than any evangelical Protestant believes.  The whole “American Zion” idea, the Nephites and, well, the Book of Mormon make him nervous.  This stuff really bothers him.  This is not because it strikes him as one of those far-fetched, rather incredible aspects of Mormonism, or that, a la Weisberg, accepting such claims entails some unique gullibility that automatically disqualifies those who accept them from positions of responsibility in government.  The details of most of what Mormons believe do not trouble Mr. Linker as they trouble many a conservative Christian, myself included.  Instead, it is their belief that America has some providential role that worries him.  Why?  Well, he tells us in part here:

The centrality of the United States to Mormon theology extends beyond the past and present to encompass the end times as well. Like many of the religious groups to emerge from the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century, Mormons are millennialists who believe themselves to be living in the years just prior to the second coming of Christ; hence the words “latter day” in the church’s official title.  Where the LDS differs from other communities gripped by eschatology, however, is in the vital role it envisions the United States playing in the end times. The Mormon “Articles of Faith” teach that, when Christ returns, he will reign “personally upon the earth” for 1,000 years, and LDS interpretations of a passage in Isaiah have led some to conclude that this rule will be directed from two locations— one in Jerusalem and the other in “Zion” (the United States). This belief has caused Mormons to view U.S. politics as a stage on which the ultimate divine drama is likely to play itself out, with a Mormon in the leading role.

Mr. Linker gets fairly sloppy here.  Both Christians and Mormons believe they are living in “the latter days.”  (Unlike the old Seventh-Day Adventists, none of us predicts the date of Christ’s return.)  To say that someone is a “millennialist” does not tell us very much about what he believes about Christ’s reign.  Everyone who believes that Christ will come again and rule is a millennialist of one sort or another.  Everyone who expected Christ’s return since at least St. Paul believed he was living in “the latter days” and there are frequent patristic references to Christ’s Incarnation taking place “in these latter days.”  What Mr. Linker succeeds in showing here is that, as far removed from orthodox Christianity as Mormonism is on many, many things, it is actually more conventional (at least for many Protestants) in its pre-millennialism than it is in many other points of theology.  As near as I can tell, the problem here is that Linker believes Mormons to be political millenarians as well: that is, he seems to be claiming that they believe that they can help usher in the end times through political action.  If that were true, it could be very worrisome.  Politically active chiliasts often unleash terrible evils upon the world.  But why is it that I have the hardest time imagining Mormons, who are personally much more on the milquetoast side than on the side of fanaticism, engaging in a power play to hasten the millennium?  Prof. Fox provides a possible explanation:

Mormon millenarianism is a fascinating topic, but it is also very much a background theme in the contemporary church [bold mine-DL], and while most Americans would probably instinctively think Mormon claims about these matters are nutty, they’d also have to acknowledge that they are mostly without specific political content, unless one chooses to seriously and unfairly strain one’s interpretations.

Very simply, Mormon beliefs about the United States and the end times come down to this: it is popularly (and to a degree doctrinally–more on that difference below) accepted in the Mormon church that the freedoms guaranteed in the United States, particularly through the absence of established churches, made the founding of our church possible, and that consequently we need to both see a divine purpose in the founding of this nation and feel a divine imperative to preserve the freedoms its founding guaranteed. (An imperative that I have felt more than a few Mormon legislators have failed to respect lately.) There is also a popular (though not so much doctrinal) belief within the church that Mormons in the U.S. will play an important role in the eventual fate of this country in the lead-up to the second coming of Christ. But–and this is the important thing for purposes of this argument–there is no clearly defined sense of what that role will be.       

In short, Mormons are moved by their religious commitment to…defend constitutional liberties, including the freedom of religion?  Now, that is scary!

What bothers Mr. Linker still more is the unsettled nature of Mormonism because of the potential role of prophecy in making significant changes to the religion and the authority accorded to prophecy.  As Prof. Bushman hinted and as Mr. Linker himself acknowledged, the few most recent occasions when prophecy was used to introduce new teachings that are formally binding on all Mormons have actually brought Mormonism more in line with contemporary social mores. Prophecy in Mormonism has historically had the very moderating effect on Mormonism that Mr. Linker says Mormonism lacks because of its reliance on prophecy.  (Leave aside for the moment the potentially more disturbing pattern of prophecy coming up with the “right” answer to solve a problem that Mormons were facing at the time–for instance, the official rejection of polygamy coming just in time to facilitate Utah statehood.)  

Were Montanists still kicking around somewhere, Mr. Linker would have the same fears of the claims of the New Prophecy.  Certainly, from an orthodox Christian perspective, Mormonism is as objectionable as Montanism was for the apparently changeable nature of its basic church teachings.  Then again, orthodox Christians would almost have to hope that there was some mechanism by which Mormons could effectively jettison their most absurd and theologically nonsensical beliefs (not that there is much chance of their doing this, mind you).  For some of the most die-hard critics of Mormonism, the possibility that Mormonism is “unstable” in this way and may become something doctrinally other than what it is is hardly something that makes Mormonism appear worse, much less threatening.  Indeed, one word that never comes to mind when I think of Mormonism today is the word threatening.  Except as a heresy (which is admittedly no small thing), it poses no threat whatever.     

It seems to me that it is quite one thing to note that Mormons are not Christians and for Christian voters to take that into account when judging a Mormon candidate.  It is quite another thing to conjure up rather far-reaching, implausible scenarios of Mormon domination when the historical record suggests that nothing could be further from the minds of the Mormons themselves.  But then far-reaching, implausible scenarios of domination by religious enthusiasts are Mr. Linker’s stock in trade these days, aren’t they? 

On Wednesday, Saban became the Alabama coach. And Dolphins fans were not happy. Chagrined by Saban’s departure, two years after he came to South Florida from Louisiana State, many fans flooded the airwaves Wednesday with claims that included deception and carpetbagging. ~The New York Times

Most of you probably couldn’t care less about Nick Saban, and on the whole I’m not that interested in his story myself, but for the past month there has been endless speculation about whether he would betray yet another deal he had made with his employers in Miami and become the coach at Alabama.  He had already betrayed LSU when he swore he would not leave the coaching position there…right before he left for Miami.  For the last month, he has been stating clearly and unequivocally that he would under no circumstances leave his job as coach of the Dolphins to take over in Tuscaloosa.  After so many categorical denials, even I, ever the cynic, assumed that he was telling the truth.  What sort of louse would keep saying the same thing with no intention of following through on it?  Oh, right, the Nick Saban kind. 

I hope the Crimson Tide wind up in some no-name bowl contest.  I hope they lose–badly–to Auburn.  I hope they get shut out by Tennessee.  If there is justice in the world of college football, Nick Saban will become a joke.  Unfortunately, he is quite capable as a football coach and will probably do quite well for that program.  As was pointed out to me, however, to leave the NFL to go down to Alabama is hardly a success story after winning the championship with LSU.  Even if he finds some success, the people in Alabama would have to be fools to ever believe another word that comes out of his mouth. 

Liberals must be particularly cautious in speculating about the political intentions of religious groups because of their fascination with fanaticism. Fanaticism is one of the most firmly entrenched stereotypes in the liberal mind. The fanatic is the polar opposite of all that the liberal stands for and thus constitutes a particularly delicious enemy. ~Richard Lyman Bushman

On behalf of the fanatics, I happily agree with that definition.

Query: why does TNR put up an online discussion of an article that can only be read by subscribers?  It isn’t going to make anyone subscribe.  The beauty of these little online debates is that they generate a lot of attention, which they won’t do if the main article is under veritable lock and key.  I would love to comment on what Linker has said about Romney and Mormonism, since I had plenty to say about Linker and Romney last year, but it aint worth the subscription price.

Imagine, for example, that you have been placed in a room and asked to watch a series of student speeches on the policies of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. You’ve been told in advance that the students were assigned the task of either attacking or supporting Chávez and had no choice in the matter. Now, suppose that you are then asked to assess the political leanings of these students. Shrewd observers, of course, would factor in the context and adjust their assessments accordingly. A student who gave an enthusiastic pro-Chávez speech was merely doing what she was told, not revealing anything about her true attitudes. In fact, many experiments suggest that people would overwhelmingly rate the pro-Chávez speakers as more leftist. Even when alerted to context that should affect their judgment, people tend to ignore it. Instead, they attribute the behavior they see to the person’s nature, character, or persistent motives. This bias is so robust and common that social psychologists have given it a lofty title: They call it the fundamental attribution error. ~Kahneman & Renshon, Foreign Policy

This FP article is worth reading.  This section reminded me of an amusing experience from a few years back when I had been asked to participate in a Religion Department symposium on “suffering and compassion.”  For whatever reason, I had been assigned to work on themes of suffering and compassion in Judaism and soon came upon the kabbalistic idea of God’s suffering.  As I remember it, this is the idea:

Yitzhak Luria described it as the suffering that God felt because of His separation from His Spirit, the Shekhinah, which–according to this telling of the creation of the cosmos–had been trapped here below when finite creation was broken because of its inability to hold the Infinite.  With each pious and righteous act, Jews could free the Shekhinah, bring an end to God’s suffering and remake creation through the repair of the world (tikkun olun).  (Hence the name of the magazine Tikkun.)  In this way, he provided a cosmological reason for performing every commandment and made Jewish piety an act of compassion towards God, whose suffering was thereby alleviated.

That was the bulk of what I talked about in my presentation.  The reason why I was reminded of this by the quote above was that, after I gave my talk, one of the religion professors approached and asked at one point in the conversation, “Are you Jewish?”  Of course, I wasn’t (I had not yet converted to the Orthodoxy at this point, but I was well on my way in that direction) and answered the question accordingly.  It was a strange question to be asked (though not quite so funny as when, years later, I said I was Orthodox and received the reply that the person in question didn’t know I was Jewish).  From the way I had delivered my presentation, he apparently thought it likely that I had to be Jewish, perhaps on the assumption that only someone who firmly believed the things I said could have said them in whatever way I had said them.  (I guess it was a convincing performance!)  This is a natural assumption we all make whenever we see someone doing something or speaking: we take our limited information and read it back into the entire character of a person.  The only trouble is that, as unavoidable as it is, this often gives us a remarkably distorted picture.  Because it is commonplace, we all know that we do it, and because it is always happening it is something we can become aware of and try to control when necessary.  In international relations, the stakes are too great to allow these instinctive reactions to not only influence but actually decide official policy towards other states. 

None of this means that hawks are always wrong. One need only recall the debates between British hawks and doves before World War II to remember that doves can easily find themselves on the wrong side of history. ~Kahneman & Renshon, Foreign Policy

Perhaps one of the reasons why people are psychologically inclined to listen to hawks is also determined to some significant degree by their conditioning and upbringing.  An entire nation raised on a mythos woven around WWII that teaches them that you cannot ever ”appease” hostile states and that any attempt to engage in diplomacy must doom you to greater bloodshed later will have profoundly distorting effects on the perception of present-day threats.  If you then believe that every enemy is an embryonic Hitler and every crisis is Munich, c. 1938 (and the 1938ists always do), there can be no peaceful resolution to a dispute; if you have an ideology that is geared towards encouraging the most paranoid and delusional aspects of “reactive devaluation,” you are bound to see any adversary as the quintessence of evil who cannot be trusted in the slightest. 

If we are already wired to some degree to prefer open conflict as a solution, this ingrained conditioning encourages the worst tendencies in us.  Thus you can have, even in a social science article that attempts to be relatively neutral, a boilerplate nod to the myth of the Good War and the idea that someone can be on the “wrong side” of history, and the latter idea is somehow supposedly demonstrated by the reference to WWII.  On the point in question, it is not at all obvious.  There are many reasons to suppose that it would have been better for Britain not to fight Germany in WWII.  Intervening on the Continent, which was such a tremendous, calamitous error in 1914, was really no better for Britain in 1939, and pretty clearly it hastened the demise of Britain as a real first-rate power and helped speed the collapse of the Empire. 

Besides, even if “hawks” are occasionally right, the number of times they must have been wrong is rather staggering when you consider all the wars that have benefited neither side or that have “benefited” the victor so poorly as to not be worth the cost.  That seems to be the point Matt Yglesias is making in his response to Mr. Continetti.  If we are so deeply wired to prefer resorting to force in a dispute, it would seem that we are predisposed to come up with terribly misguided answers to most international crises.  That should make us pause and consider whether our instinctive response to attack or intervene somewhere is not actually, on the international stage, quite frequently wrong and in need of substantial supporting evidence and argument to be shown to be otherwise.  Further, if this bias for conflict is built-in and instinctive, it should be the conservative view that we should seek to restrain and discipline this instinct.  For some reason, most conservatives have chosen to associate themselves with the most belligerent and trigger-happy of approaches to international disputes.  In this they are acting the part of libertines when it comes to the passions of wrath and anger. 

All sorts of newsworthy things have been happening over the past few weeks, most of which I have missed during my vacation away from Chicago and from blogging.  One of the more interesting is Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia, ostensibly on behalf of the U.N.-approved TFG (Transitional Federal Government).  In short order the Ethiopians have driven out the Islamic Courts Union from Mogadishu to re-introduce the city to that delightful pastime of clan warfare that had been so lacking in recent months.  Like Free Kabul, Mogadishu will undoubtedly swiftly return to its fine, old traditions of civil strife, violence and chaos.  Alas, this outcome seems to have made Michael Ledeen’s delusional fantasies of Iranian power-grabs in Kenya that much less likely.  This is not exactly good news for the people of Somalia, but it is very far from bad news for everyone else.   

Reaction to the invasion on the blogs has been mixed.  More or less predictably, conventional righty bloggers cheer on the Ethiopians, usually because they are fighting Islamists, and the blog left sometimes tut-tuts and at other times applauds (you see, the war allegedly advances the interests of the multilaterally-approved transitional government and is therefore automatically good).  Saith beckett at Daily Kos: “One should not support wars of aggression lightly…”  Indeed.  Not all Kossacks are happy about the invasion, but there is a surprising degree of support for Ethiopia among the rampaging hordes.  

A few right bloggers suggest why this may not be all together desirable to sow chaos in an already stability-challenged part of the world or why it is dreadful that Washington is backing the dictator Zenawi’s regional power play.  At least one has pointed out the sorry state of reporting on the fighting in Somalia. 

My view of the Ethiopian invasion was initially entirely favourable, though I have to temper that with the acknowledgement that Ethiopian claims of any kind of self-defense are greatly exaggerated.  It is entirely fair to call this a war of aggression.  But, at the same time, Ethiopia is pursuing its legitimate interests under the colour of U.N. authority to support the “legitimate” government of Somalia, such as it is.  As African wars go, it has a good deal more justification than most.  It seems to have weakened the appeal and the reputation of these Islamist militias, and has therefore blunted the limited strength of organised jihadi forces in Somalia.  It is probable that, in the short and medium term at the least, the Ethiopians’ momentary victory will cause greater upheaval within Somalia as Ethiopia, Eritrea and regional players from across the Red Sea seek to back proxies as well.  Fighting their war in Somalia will suit both Asmara and Addis Ababa, since the two governments have fought fairly senseless, costly and inconclusive trench warfare before the current truce took hold.  (For all those who are always convinced that liberation almost always yields good results, it might be worth keeping in mind that the current leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea were once allies in the fight to rid themselves of the heinous Mengistu dictatorship–such is the terrible irony of politics–and instead of one government killing both peoples, there are now two with each one aiming to kill the other’s people.) 

Washington continues to back Ethiopia formally and supply their government with weapons, which I consider to be an unnecessary and misguided waste.  If there is one thing that this episode confirms it is that regional actors can and will respond to their own security crises effectively and the interference of a hegemon is neither needed nor desirable.  To that extent, Ethiopian intervention is preferable to endless dithering by regional powers that provides the pretext for American intervention.

The other major story of recent days was the execution of Saddam Hussein.  As I had already noted before, the execution could only have ended up appearing as sectarian payback, which is what it was all along.  (Show me someone on trial for human rights violations, and I will show you someone who has fallen into the hands of his blood enemies.)  For some reason, many Americans are now shocked (shocked!) that Hussein’s executioners were effectively a sectarian death squad, when the entire Iraqi government is not much more than a glorified sectarian death squad with the squad leader Sadr at the top as he controls his handpuppet Maliki.  Now that the full extent of the Shi’ite vendetta in the execution has become public knowledge, the execution has made the dead Hussein into a communal symbol and will, in time, make him a hallowed martyr to Sunnis as they find themselves on the receiving end of other Shi’ite death squads.  Now that he is dead at the hands of Shi’ites, all that many Sunnis will remember about him is that he was one of them and his fate represents the fate that they fear.  Those who wish to accelerate the destruction of Iraq have just received a great gift in Hussein’s execution.  As much as he deserved to die for the atrocities he ordered, executing him–or, rather, allowing the Shi’ites to execute him–was the latest phenomenally stupid thing the government did in Iraq in 2006.  We will be paying for it in 2007 and after. 

Unknown to most of you and to the rest of the world, New Mexico is recovering from what may well be its worst snowstorm of the last 100 years.  I was fortunate to be able to get out of the state on schedule, but not without some difficulty.  The highway between Albuquerque and Clines Corners remained extremely icy and had created a massive traffic jam backing up across town almost to the Rio Grande by the time I left on Monday morning, which forced me to take the alternate route via I-25 and down a state highway to reconnect with I-40 east of the mess. 

Northeasterners and Midwesterners will probably chuckle that a mere foot or two feet of snow can cripple most of an entire state for a full weekend, but for us this was the Great Blizzard of ‘06.  In the high desert, much of it well over a mile above sea level in elevation, the snowfall made road travel extremely treacherous.  Thus it was that both interstates were closed for at least two days, and I-40 east of Albuquerque was shut down from Friday until Monday with only a brief reopening Saturday.  Not that you would have heard peep about it from NPR or The Weather Channel or any news network.  The old “one of our fifty is missing” joke wears a little thin when mild rainstorms in Philadelphia merit more attention on national weather news than the paralysis of an entire state.  Colorado was not ignored in this way, perhaps because it had already suffered such a powerful and overwhelming storm the week before.  But the same problems that plague our neighbours in Colorado are also plaguing New Mexico: like their ranchers, ours are cut off and their herds are getting stuck in snowdrifts; as in Colorado, the National Guard has been mobilised to help bring supplies to those who are stranded; as it is in eastern Colorado, travel around much of northern and central New Mexico has been virtually impossible for days.  With a few exceptions, the county governments back home did an effective job recovering from the storm, and the city government of Albuquerque should be commended on getting the city up and running almost immediately.  The state did fairly well in responding to the storm.  What will remain with me from the last few days is the complete and utter indifference of people outside the state about what happens in New Mexico.  I realise there aren’t that many New Mexicans, but it might be worth mentioning when one of the major commercial corridors in America gets shut down by a freakishly large snowstorm in a desert state that typically sees less than 10″ of precipitation in an entire year.       

Needless to say, that final conclusion is open to debate. But it is true that leaders are susceptible to policies of escalation if they believe that victory can be achieved. That is because, as in Iraq, the potential rewards of victory outweigh the consequences of guaranteed defeat. Still, psychological errors are neither the lone nor the most important cause behind policymakers’ reluctance to “cut their losses.” Considerations of honor also play a factor, as do aspirations to glory—two concepts that go unmentioned in our social sciences (because they are difficult to quantify) and in our foreign-policy debate (because they are out of intellectual fashion).

But these two ideas, along with power, ideology, weakness, morality, and interest, are central to any comprehensive understanding of international relations. And they are key to understanding whether hawks or doves triumph in a given policy debate. That Kahneman and Renshon mention none of them in their essay only undermines its persuasiveness. That they restrict the scope of the biases they identify to hawks suggests their piece is less a work of social science than it is a polemic. One might even go so far as to say they exhibit clear biases of their own. ~Matt Continetti, Foreign Policy

Via Reihan

This conclusion of Mr. Continetti’s response to the Kahneman/Renshon FP essay (on the relationship between psychological biases and hawkish tendencies in foreign policy decision-making) reminded me of J.H. Elliott’s masterful biography of Olivares, the early seventeenth-century privado to the king and effective head of government of Habsburg Spain at the beginning of Spain’s slow, centuries-long decline from hegemon to second-rate power.  This is not just because Elliott’s biography is an outstanding portrait of how men in government can help bring greater ruin on their nation through activist foreign policy undertaken for the sake of reputacion above all else, but because it emphasises the centrality of reputacion in the considerations of 17th-century “policymakers.”  Its lessons can be applied to our current predicament. 

Honour and glory are relevant in any discussion of the administration’s refusal to withdrawal from Iraq–which is not to say that men in the administration are honourable men or that they have brought anything but disgrace upon our country.  Perhaps they believe they are keeping their word to Iraqis, such as it is, or perhaps they think that the only honourable thing in a war is to see it to its bitter end, no matter what.  It is, of course, precisely this confusion of insane pigheadedness with honour that has helped bring the very notion of honour into disrepute over the decades; it is the inability to distinguish selfish pride from the desire to have a clean and respectable reputation that made the idea of a “war for honour” appear to be the most horrible, meaningless kind of war.  It was because of such perversions that dulcet et decorum est became a ringing indictment of treacherous governments everywhere rather than an admirable expression of patriotic love.  Nonetheless, some distorted idea of honour lives on in high government circles that compels them to persist in the Iraq folly.  

No one in his right mind believes, for instance, that withdrawal from Iraq would constitute a strategic disaster for the United States.  It would lead to many ugly things, most of all for the Iraqis, and there would be damage in the short term to our credibility and our ability to project power (for those of us who see few occasions when we need to project power, this is less disturbing than it is for the hegemonists), but the damage would be done quickly and could be repaired relatively easily.  What many believe is that the appearance of the withdrawal will deal a powerful blow to national prestige.  The people worrying about this are usually the same people who cavalierly spat upon the opinion of the world only three and half years ago and declared that what the world thought of America was irrelevant when our “security” was at stake.  (Perhaps if our security had been at stake, world opinion might well have been irrelevant.)  Still, it is fascinating all the same to watch the people who practically only yesterday loathed the very idea of being in any way governed by concern about international reaction now start screaming about the damage to our reputation if we should now abandon Iraq to its fate.  Those who gleefully mocked any government, ally or no, that dared question the wisdom of the invasion are now terribly concerned that the same governments they once ridiculed as irrelevant will think less of American strength.  Trust me, folks, in some of these countries it is impossible to worsen the reputation of the United States, because there is nowhere for it to go but up.  Fears of further wrecking American prestige are misplaced–it is not possible to sink a wrecked ship a second time.  

There is something elemental and primal in their newfound concern for national reputation: no one wishes to appear to be a fool, and no one wishes to suffer the “humiliation” of having to acknowledge his limits.  Withdrawal from Iraq highlights the limits of what Americans are willing to tolerate and support for the sake of ambiguous, shifting or meaningless goals, which means that Americans have no stomach for wasteful expeditions of empire or hegemony or whatever you would like to call it.  This is embarrassing, most of all for those who think that the United States guarantees world stability.  Withdrawal would also be an admission of national folly and recklessness, which would vindicate to some degree the international critics and make the bulk of our foreign policy establishment look like a gang of idiots (the truth hurts, doesn’t it?). 

No one in or near that establishment really wants this to happen, which is why we now have the growing consensus that the Iraqis failed to make proper use of the glorious gift we gave them: why couldn’t they make more of their untidy freedom?  The idea that most of the political class and almost the entire professional foreign policy elite botched the biggest policy question of the last 15 years is too terrible for them to consider.  That is why they think we must keep fighting in Iraq: to help save their reputations long enough to shift the blame to the miserable people of “liberated” Iraq, all in the name of preserving the good name of the United States, in spite of the fact that they have already trashed our good name and made our nation’s name a curse in the mouths of the people who have “benefited” from our intervention

Reputacion is always the concern of people in government, concerned as they are as much with the appearance of things as with anything of substance, and it does drive policy decisions.  Unfortunately, as happened with Olivares’ costly and ultimately failed campaigns in the Netherlands and against France, wars fought for reputacion, not unlike wars fought for ideological or other intangible reasons, are wars that tend to go on for much longer than the state of affairs suggests they should and they tend to be much harder to terminate because calling off a war fought for the sake of reputacion is to put something as paltry as the good of the actual country and people ahead of the airy prestige of the government.  Few governments are willing to do that.  Democratically elected governments are among the worst in this regard, because they can, with some plausibility, claim to be acting out the will of the people, which can make concluding a war seem to be an act of betrayal of the nation (an accusation nationalists from 1918 to 1975 to today and forever after will always make about the end of wars they and people like them helped to start).  Sadly, only too many nations are willing to allow their governments to value reputacion more highly than those governments value the well-being of their peoples.  Reputacion does drive decision-making, but it is not at all clear that it should or that the importance of reputacion should be anything but a black mark against the policymakers who follow the imperatives of maintaining reputacion.  Some conception of honour is something we should keep in mind when we try to understand why governments go to war, but we must also remember that the government’s so-called honour usually comes at the expense of the people’s well-being, whereas the real honour of the nation is usually served when its government does not foment or seek conflict.  

As everyone knows by now, former President Gerald Ford died last week.  I have no real quarrel with the late President Ford, who, to his credit, would very likely have regarded all of the excessive to-do about him to be fairly embarrassing and unbecoming, but the way the media have been covering his funeral you would think that we had lost a long-reigning emperor.  The saccharine praise being heaped up on him and the rapid rewriting of history done for his benefit would probably make the most cynical panegyrist blush with shame.  Just the other day we were treated to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal trying, among other things, to sell the Helsinki Accords of 1975 as something other than an embarrassing failure.  (Remember, folks, eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination!)  This is just one of the many things few people would say with any seriousness unless they were trying to find good things to say about the departed.   

Everyone seems to agree that he was a decent man, which is fine.  But it is a sorry commentary on the state of American politics then and now that he stands out sharply for his decency and honesty against the backdrop of general corruption and decline in public affairs.  What might have once been considered the bare minimum of integrity in office has now become a beacon to the rest of his generation and their ridiculous successors.  People seem to be taking such an interest in Ford’s career because I suspect they cannot imagine Congress ever offering up someone like him again (with perhaps the odd exception here or there).  This is not because such people are no longer with us, but because most of them would never go near Congress unless they were going as tourists (and perhaps not even then). 

Everyone who comments on the life and work of President Ford keeps talking about the ”healing” he supposedly worked on the troubled nation, c. 1974-76, and I am fairly sure that this is a lot of pious nonsense.  Pardoning Nixon was probably the wise and prudent move, but it is only with thirty-plus years of hindsight that we can say that it had any “healing” effects.  At best, we are stretching the truth to say that his administration brought “healing” to the country; at worst, it is pure psychobabble dressed up as eulogy.  Justice can sometimes do more to heal than clemency, provided that it is accountability and the rule of law that interest us rather than some mindless need for superficial national unity.  The pardon did spare the nation the spectacle of a disgraced ex-President being hounded from courtroom to courtroom, which only seems desirable for the most part for presidential cultists and enthusiasts for executive overreach.  I have never quite understood why we want our disgraced, almost certainly guilty magistrates to avoid the penalties that their actions merit.  I cannot understand why we want them to be able to evade undergoing the scrutiny to which all other citizens would have to submit were they to commit similar acts.  But then I think we should have a government of laws, and I am not in the majority in thinking this. 

Viewed as a matter of fostering some political consensus and as a way of encouraging collective forgetting, the pardon was genius.  As a matter of helping to strengthen the Republic and the republican inclinations of the people, it was a tremendous failure.  We should bear that in mind when next we hear someone waxing poetic about the legacy of President Ford.     

Populism has gotten a bad odor, and not just among plutocrats—for most of the political chattering class, it is at least faintly pejorative. But I think that’s about to change: When economic hope shrivels and the rich become cartoons of swinish privilege, why shouldn’t the middle class become populists? What Professor Hacker calls “office-park populism” will be a main engine of any new cyclical progressive renaissance. The question is whether we’ll elect steady, visionary FDR-like national leaders—Bloomberg? Obama?—who can manage to keep populism’s nativist, Luddite tendencies in check. ~Kurt Andersen, New York Magazine

Via Reihan

Reihan pointed out this column as an example of the astonishingly boring and unimaginative writing Mr. Andersen produces when he turns to columns.  He’s right–it is a terribly boring and unimaginative column.  Leave it to a New Yorker to take something as elemental and interesting as popular protest and social unrest and turn it into just another banging of the New Deal coalition drum.  The quote above is representative of the good liberal Northeasterner who sees the opportunity to exploit popular discontent with what he calls the “casino economy” but who refuses to give any indication that the the hordes of so-called “nativist Luddites” whom he so plainly loathes are the very people any populist candidate will need to win over.  It is strange how quickly he turns to references to the super-aristocratic FDR, a man who simply oozes upper class condescension, to make an argument for the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore” approach to politics.  There is nothing necessarily amiss in having aristocrats of one kind or another take up popular and populist causes, but the fawning admiration for FDR tends to confirm that there is nothing very populist about this kind of politics.  It may be in some sense a progressive kind of politics, but that is a very different strain in American political history.  The Dobbsian appeal to those whom Brooks called the populist-nationalists is quite distinct and, on some things, starkly opposed to anything FDR-like, whether we are speaking of trade, immigration or foreign policy.

There was one hint of something interesting in Andersen’s column that has gone unmentioned so far.  He writes:

We can afford to make life a little more fair and a lot less scary for most people. It’s not only a matter of virtue and national self-image. Because the future that frightens me isn’t so much a too-Hispanic U.S. caused by unchecked Mexican immigration, but a Latin Americanized society with a high-living, blithely callous oligarchy gated off from a growing mass of screwed-over peons.

That’s all well and good, except that the likelihood of creating the Latin Americanised, highly stratified society of the rich few and the poor many is greatly increased if America continues to import the political values (which are rather “Luddite” in their own left-populist way), poverty and people of Latin America.  That is something that I have been arguing for quite a few months now.